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33 thoughts on “12-Step Porn & Sex Addiction Recovery Groups – What are the differences?

  1. You should also include Celebrate Recovery. Many (most?) of the CR programs have small groups for pornography and sexual addiction and deal with it from a Christian perspective both with the Christ-centered Twelve Steps and the Eight Principles of Recovery. Our church’s group has been thriving for over six years.

  2. With all due respect to the good that these groups do in the community at large, I believe that for Christians, the church should interact more fully with people struggling with sexual addiction. I would cite 3 reasons for this:

    1. It moves confession outside the realm of the Body of Christ. Men (and women) who have issues with pornography might never confess to their brothers, and miss out on receiving grace and help from those in their church.

    2. 12-step groups are not God-centered, Christ-centered, gospel-centered groups. For all the good these groups may do, there is no real change apart from the gospel working in the life of the believer.

    3. The church needs to address all of the life of the believer, including sexual brokenness.

    I would be interested in any feedback on these points.

    • Brian, I totally agree with you: Christians should be interacting with those who struggle with sex addiction. Unfortunately #1 is true. Men and women don’t feel free to confess sin in the church, especially when it comes to this area. You’re right on #2 as well. I remember Nate Larkin writing about this in his book, Samson and the Pirate Monks. He went to 12-step groups amidst his recovery for years, and yet he struggled with the non-Christian nature of the groups. You are also right on #3 – if the church doesn’t address the social issues of our time, how sin is manifesting itself all around us, we cease to show how Christ is a full and sufficient Savior from all kinds of sin.

    • I used to have a similarly low opinion of 12-step programs – but my experience in SA has been so life-giving that I can never be sufficiently grateful for the gift I have been given there.

      As it says in the White Book (adapted from the Big Book): “…we deal with lust — cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power — that One is God. May you find Him now!”

      I attended Baptist churches since I was on the cradle roll. Other than my years in college, I have been at church nearly every week – at least once a week – for nearly six decades. By the time I was in high school, I knew all of the answers (Christ died for my sins, repentance, raised to new life, etc, etc, etc). And in the past 15 years I have been reaching out over and over again at church, confessing my addiction and looking for others to walk with me. Most of the men (and pastors) have pretty much ignored me. A few men have been somewhat helpful, but they cannot speak from experience with any addictive disorders and generally left me feeling more defeated and questioning my salvation.

      I also attended groups like For Men Only at nearby churches, where I got more consistent help — to say nothing of more relevant help. But it still was not enough for me to find sobriety (purity). I eventually reached the depth of despair where I was seriously planning my suicide. This got me involved with the medical (mental health) community. The anti-depressants helped my moods and my ability to set aside suicidal thoughts — but I was still helpless to deal with my addictive behavior.

      My wife is disappointed that I have been attending SA for three years now, confident that I would find more help with the “truth” that is available in a more explicitly Christian context. But talking to (and especially working with) people who understand my addiction from the inside has made all the difference in the world.

      It would be easy for me to label my church family as spiritually shallow, glossing over the deep meaning of the Gospel and Grace. It would be equally easy for me to say that they probably all have it clear but were never able to discern my deep lack of understanding of these words. But I don’t think that either of these is the appropriate diagnosis of my spiritual history. Even if the latter is true, I don’t know how it could have been different to lead me to the truth that God has shown me in SA.

      Quite frankly, it is only in the context of SA that I finally started to understand the meaning of so many words that I have been able to define for decades. It was first at SA that the astonishing, scandalous wonder of GRACE became clear to me. I am eternally grateful for the spiritual growth that I have had in SA — which I never found in 5 decades of attendance at a half dozen churches and countless para-church activities and programs.

      I don’t feel like I have expressed myself very well, but I pray that someone who is struggling may find hope from my experience.

    • I think 12-Step programs have helped many many people. Often the flavor of any local group will be guided my the people who are involved in it. So when the people are striving to be gospel-centered, the 12-Step model they use will probably be infused with it. Thanks for sharing, Gordon!

    • I disagree, primarily because I have been in a 12 step oriented sex addict recovery program for 3 years and the 12 steps are greatly centered around our higher power; which in my experience is majority recognized as God. I attend atleast 4 meetings per week and honestly cannot think of one that God is not mentioned in. Furthermore, I also have attended my church based CR and it to is a wonderful program offering biblical focus to many diseases. But it only runs once per week and the majority of addicts I know, need more meetings and fellowship to stay sober. Thanks!

    • On number 2 the Bible also teaches, if your eye offends you pluck it out. It seems that so many people who post on sites like these are not addicts but do have all the answers. I grow weary of what “authority” they express over something inwhich they have no knowledge except what they learned from a pulpit. 12 step participants view themselves as someone with a disease which 12 step programs help them manage. Most people with diabetes will have it for their entire lives. Calling themselves diabetic makes them no less special in the eyes of God. Anyone with a legitimate study of any addictive condition can see the clear similarity. I have not plucked out my own eye and I have never met anyone who has. Does that make us all double sinners? 12 step programs assist us in living healthier lives and “sinning no more.” The act is the sin and as we stop acting out we stop that sinful experience. The diabetic is still a diabetic after giving up the Sugar. I am a grateful sexaholic because the 12 step program brought me closer to God and I no longer act out. It is the program that helps me maintain my sobriety and I benefit in nothing by those who make me wrong for acknowledging the truth of who I am, a grateful recovering sexaholic.

    • I think there needs to be some give and take here. The Bible itself uses the disease metaphor when talking about sin. Look at texts like Isaiah 1:5-7 and 53:6. Scripture emphasizes that sin has many things in common with a disease. Like a disease, sin affects our entire being, it is painful, it leads to death, and it is absolutely tragic.

      Moreover, sin as a disease isn’t just a metaphor. In 1 Corinthians 6:18, Paul writes, “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” There is a sense in which sexual sin is unique in the damage it does to the body. Paul writes that slavery to sin does not just stem from the heart, but it is something that finds a beachhead in the very members of our physical bodies. “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Romans 7:21-23, italics added). Sin, in a very real sense, makes us sick.

      However, the Bible never loses sight of moral responsibility. Alcoholism and porn addiction are a lot like diseases. They feel as if we have been taken over by a virus, making us spiral out of control…but it is voluntary slavery.

      Dr. Ed Welch calls this the dual nature of sin:

      “This enlarged perspective indicates that in sin, we are both hopelessly out of control and shrewdly calculating; victimized yet responsible. All sin is simultaneously pitiable slavery and overt rebelliousness or selfishness. This is a paradox, to be sure, but one that is the very essence of all sinful habits.” (Addictions, p.34)

      Just like the Bible, as Christians we can and should speak of slavery to porn as a sickness, but a sickness we have chosen. Disease is a good metaphor for sin, but it is not the only metaphor.

    • Your comment about 12 step groups not being God centered or Christ centered, etc., is incorrect. We speak of the God of our understanding and a higher power. Is it so important that we split hairs over whether one says God, Christ, Jesus, higher power, etc? God will be God and do what God does, in all grace and compassion, for anyone seeking and asking – in a 12 step group or otherwise.

      By the way, I was raised in a Christian home and in Christian churches for 40 years. The real healing from addiction began for me in 12 step programs. That’s where I found God. And freedom from compulsive behaviors.

      As much as the “Church” wants to address the issues of addictive and compulsive behaviors (gambling, sexaholics, alcoholics, addicts, etc.) within their congregations and communities, they haven’t been able to successfully do so because there is judgment and the need to be perfect – The church is ashamed to be human! You can say that it’s not there, but that’s what families say who are in denial about their own problems. Churches would be better to say, we have judged others, forgive us. But at this time, about the best they can do is offer to rent their basements to these groups.

      There are good things in most churches and good people. Leadership needs to attend open 12 step groups to learn how to bring the concepts into their churches to help heal their people. And congregants should be encouraged to attend at least 6 meetings, maybe more if they are really committed to ministering to the hurting and addicted.

      The key is humility and a willingness to keep an open mind…perhaps God is doing a new thing (as he always is) and the Church needs to get on board.

      And please, over the years I’ve attended 4 different types of 12 step programs. Please do not say that these groups are not God centered. You are right in the sense that people are NOT told what to believe about God. What a beautiful thing, huh? They are actually allowed to find the God of their understanding. There’s a difference in a personal God of your understanding and one for which you are told what/how/why to believe. I’ll take the personal God every day. Thanks for reading this.

    • I struggled with sex and love addiction, went to friends in the church, pastors, Bible school teachers, Christian therapists, deliverance ministries… There was some help, but not total victory. The one good thing about the SA group is I can confess ANYTHING and not feel judged. This doesn’t’ happen in any church I know of. Everyone is afraid to take off their mask. Without the ability to take off the mask, you think no one knows you and therefore no one loves you. For if they really knew you, they would reject you.
      It was a safe place to recover, the confession of sins and struggles help break the hold they had over me. Gradually I saw things that fed my addiction: resentment, pride, objectification, using pornography for comfort, fantasy, etc.
      The missing component of SA is there is no prayer after confession resulting in healing. You share, you are now vulnerable, and left hanging.
      Also the confession: I am a Sexaholics is not scriptural. Paul tells me I am a new creation, regardless of behavior, feelings, etc. this reality has secured a firm foundation against the lies of the enemy.

    • I will use the 3 parts that you put in and then go over them from a perspective of a church in southwest Ohio.

      1. It moves confession outside the realm of the Body of Christ. Men (and women) who have issues with pornography might never confess to their brothers, and miss out on receiving grace and help from those in their church.

      There are two groups that go on at the exact same times for the men who are addicted to alcohol, sex, lust, porn, and drugs. They do follow the 12 steps as well as the “Big Book” that is often quoted. The higher power in this group has always been referred to as God. Scriptures are used to back things up and most men had been in a church their entire lives. The meetings are held in classrooms and all are welcome to join in or pass.
      The second group is made up of women, many of which their husbands are in the first group. Everything that is mentioned in the room stays in the room and all the names are also confidential.

      2. 12-step groups are not God-centered, Christ-centered, gospel-centered groups. For all the good these groups may do, there is no real change apart from the gospel working in the life of the believer.

      Like I stated above, the 12 step can be and is in many places using scripture to walk through, The reason is that they took the 12 step book and had a pastor who had been an addict, took everything to task and brought in the scriptures. The lead pastor also had much to do with the redesign of the curriculum as well.

      3. The church needs to address all of the life of the believer, including sexual brokenness.

      Amen to that, Not all churches have the capabilities to handle these kind of problems and rely on other Bible based organizations like “Teen Challenge” which is very intense.
      I am also working with 2 elders with my addiction as well.They have assigned that I read the book “Strengthen Yourself in the Lord: How to Release the Hidden Power of God in Your Life” By Bill Johnson.

  3. Luke,

    On your response to #1 – I think it’s critical to create a climate where sin can be talked about, and the best way to do that is for church leaders to talk about their own struggles, temptations, and even failures. It has to start with the leadership. I have noticed that many respected church leaders have been quite open with the fact that it’s a temptation for them, like John Piper, George Verwer, and Mark Driscoll. This paves the way for openness.

    #2 – one of the things that always bothered me when I went to SA and SAA was the self-identification as a sex addict (Hi, I’m Brian, and I’m a sex addict). That’s not what Scripture says. The Bible teaches that I am redeemed and have Christ’s righteousness, in spite of presenting sin. Theology leads to thinking and thinking leads to practice. If I believe what God says about me, I can live what God says about me. This is lacking in those groups.

    #3 – In some churches when somebody confesses a porn problem, they are immediately sent to a 12-step group, or a counselor. The latter may be warranted in some cases, but for most having accountability and confession, and a focus on relationships and growth in Christ is all they really need. Churches need to facilitate this.

    I have to confess that I posted the previous response because I’m speaking on this topic at the Xenos Summer Institute next week, and was fishing for feedback on that position. Of course, I will be recommending Covenant Eyes as part of the solution, and I’m grateful to God for your software.

    • On #1 – Absolutely! Leadership must take the reigns on this.

      On #2 – I see what you mean about that, and you are right that right theology must always take precedence over ritualistic/traditional jargon. (On the other hand I was at the CCEF “The Addict in Us All” conference last year. It was interesting when Tim Lane opened the whole thing with “Hi, I’m Tim, and I’m an addict.” His point was to show that all of us are in fact still self-addicts, that all sin is driven by this fleshly, fallen preoccupation with self and not God. It’s one thing to assert our oneness to Christ as the primary thing that defines us, its another thing to stress our new identity to a point where we ignore our fleshly tendencies. Still, I agree with you. Paul said it was no longer him that was doing that which he hated but “the sin in me.”)

      On #3 – Amen to that.

      In general my point for this post is that there are a lot of 12-step sex addiction groups out there and I thought that very curious. The point was to merely point out the differences.

      PS: Do you want me to mail you some CE fliers for your presentation? I’d be happy to do send you free stuff to give out if you are interested.

  4. I feel I must respectfully disagree with you some on point #2. Being at the CCEF conference, I felt one of the major themes of the entire conference was the point that as counselors/people helpers that we need to realize we are also fallen sinful individuals. This allows us to find a point of similarity between ourselves and those individuals we are counseling.

    Furthermore, from both a Biblical standpoint and a counseling standpoint I do not think it’s healthy for a person who struggles with lust /pornography /illicit sex to continue to associate their identity with being an “addict.” Just as it is not good for a person who struggles with anorexia to self identify as an “anorexic.” I think the better terminology and self descriptors for a Christian would be: I am a redeemed individual who struggles with X sin.

    • Regarding “I am Gordon and I am a sexaholic”:

      I am looking forward to meeting the person who has struggled with lust like I have and who is now totally free of it. In the meantime, I find no problem whatsoever accepting BOTH that I am a redeemed Son of the King, and that I have a deep and abiding addiction to lust.

      As it says in the Big Book: “We are not cured of alcoholism [sexaholism]. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all of our activities.”

      I will be a sexaholic to the day I die, but that doesn’t negate my status as a saint anymore than it means that I am in active addiction.

  5. I’d like to comment on Brian’s three points.

    Point #1 – The fact is, people in recovery from sexual/pornography addiction NEED a support group. Just confessing to a pastor is not enough. Even getting counseling is not enough, although it may be necessary. A central component of sex addiction is secrecy and the fear of being known by our peers. The only way to deal with that is to have a safe place to talk about it openly, and a support group is the only place to find others who have been where you’ve been. So, if a church doesn’t want to send people to a 12-step group, they had better be ready to start their own support group or find other local churches who have them to send people to.

    Point #2 – I am a recovering sex addict with 13 years of sobriety. I found recovery in a Christian support group that was not 12-step based. However, a very close friend of mine found recovery in a 12-step group because his church was unwilling to help him. His recovery would rival the very best of men who found recovery in a “Christian” support group. He found Christ in a 12-step group and is very defensive when people say 12-step is not Christ-centered. If there are not GOOD Christian support groups in your area, why would you not send people to a 12-step program?

    Point #3 – Yes, the church does need to address sexual purity. From what I see, sexual purity may be the highest “per capita” sin in the church today, yet many churches won’t address it. So, people continue to pretend that they have no problems, adding to the power of secrecy in this addiction.

    No, 12-step is not perfect, but neither is any Christian recovery program I’ve seen, and in 13 years I’ve been through most of them, including Celebrate Recovery. In many cases, the local SA group may be the strongest program in your region. We cannot ignore these as Christians, especially until we collectively step up to the plate and start offering quality recovery groups for sex addicts in every region.

  6. Thanks for all the responses to my comment. Trisha, I need to clarify what I said, and thanks so much for keeping me honest. When I said that churches should not send people to 12-step groups, I really meant secular groups. If you have a group that is Christ and gospel-centered, then that is exactly what I’m endorsing.

    As John pointed out, we really do need support groups, and the church should be at the forefront of facilitating just that. Glad to see in the disagreements that we’re actually in concert here.


  7. Surprising there is an emergence of faith base addiction groups, and they are good at providing unparalleled support. However, many are shy about sex addiction. For the few where the program exists, their acceptance of sex addiction is even questionable.

    • @Luke G (response to Champs) –

      I used the Faithful and True workbook in one of the For Men Only programs that I attended. And it was a valuable part of my recovery. But that FMO program, and that text, were not enough to get me sober.

      It is wonderful that Laaser has a program in Minnesota (or wherever) but that does little for the millions of men in other states. The fact that I have about 30 SA meetings in the Portland (OR) area is a blessing that can be (and is being) duplicated around the country.

      It is a terrible sadness that 12-step programs are denigrated when so many churches offer nothing in their place.

  8. With regard to churches struggling to offer recovery groups for sex addicts and their partners – here’s a beautiful blog posting by my old counselor Lauri ( she has a lot to say about God, life and even the church. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Christian woman so clearly articulate the God given gift of sex…most Christian men and woman can’t even talk about sex out loud. You have to heal your own sexual pain and shame before you can tell others how to do it: See the “Manifesto of God and Sex” below.

    Sunday, January 12, 2014

    A Manifesto of God & Sex

    A friend asked recently if it was possible to be a Christian and a “luscious,” sexual being at the same time. I knew exactly what my answer was to her in the moment, but I didn’t quite have the words to flesh it out. The following is my attempt to do so.

    First, you should know that there’s a lot to say about this subject. I’ll barely skim the surface here. There are volumes of beliefs and work between each line that follows. It’s complex, and yet it’s simple. I offer the simple version here. A confession of what I believe about God, sex, and the bond between the two, which is Love.

    I believe in Love.
    I believe that God is Love.
    I believe that Jesus’ choice to use his power & privilege
    to give himself to others –
    mind, body, & soul –
    is the truest embodiment of Love.

    I believe in Sex.
    I believe that we are all created to be beautiful, luscious, sexual beings.
    I believe that sexual contact is one of the deepest forms of human connection
    and that our capacity to give & receive Love is most evident via sexual expression.

    I believe that the best, mind-blowing, earth-shattering, pleasure-filled sex
    comes when we are able to give ourselves completely to another –
    mind, body, & soul.
    Sex that flows from Love is
    anything but mild and polite.
    It generates more heat and arousal than many of us dares to experience.

    It is in the heat of sexual Love that we encounter God –
    not the sterile, white, narcissistic God that many of us were falsely raised to know,
    but the sensual, playful, loving God
    who had the passion and humor to create our eyes…
    lips… necks… fingertips… breasts… torsos…
    penises… and clitorises…
    in the first place.

    Culturally, we’re told that Love kills sexual pleasure and that
    novelty and consumption are the keys to intense arousal.
    This is a lie.
    There is pleasure in novelty and consumption,
    but it is shallow and brief.
    And it causes harm to us,
    because it cuts us off from Love.

    The problem is that
    most of us are afraid of Love.

    We want it, and we are scared of the pain
    we might feel if we truly give ourselves to another.
    Because of that fear,
    we twist Love, and we twist sex.
    We let corrupt versions of God & sex
    define how we interact with & embody both.
    This is not Love.
    This is Fear.
    And we mustn’t confuse the two.

    The way that Jesus Loved is truly compelling to me.
    He teaches me how to give myself completely to others
    despite the fear that tries to hold me back
    and the subsequent pain (i.e., crucifixion) that will come
    at one point or another.
    But fear and pain are not the point,
    and they do not have to have
    the final power over us.

    Love is the point
    and the profound pleasure that it brings
    to help us be in our bodies in this world
    and simultaneously transcend it.

    When my friend asked if it was possible to be
    a Christian and a “luscious,” sexual being at the same time,
    I gave an enthusiastic “Yes!”
    And I told her not only that I think it’s possible, but
    it’s because of my faith that I can be the luscious, sexual being
    that God created me to be.

    What a quirky, playful God that gave us these
    luscious, sensual bodies –
    all to help us know Love.


    • Thanks for this interesting thread. I attend a meeting called Prodigals International in the Seattle area. It is a 12-step group, but fully Christ-centered. I just wish that everyone in the church had a chance to work through the steps with a mentor. I have never found the same level of honesty and humility as among my fellow addicts. I’m afraid the church neither provides the opportunity or encouragement for rigorous, unsparing honesty. But that is the cornerstone of our faith, isn’t it?

  9. 12-step groups teach two things which I tend to vehemently disagree with. (1) The addict is selfish to the core (this is patently false for me, for when using or not using I have always been very giving, almost to a fault). (2) Without God, the group, total devotion to service and other rigid requirements, the addict, who is *POWERLESS* is condemned either to death or life in institutions or jails (or just a life of constant pain or misery). I find the selfish/selfless dichotomy and the “powerless” teaching of 12-step programs to have a palpable cult-like feel to them, because they imply that total group reliance is essential for not just recovery but for survival.

  10. I totally agree with Stephen R about the Prodigals group! I also attend one of these groups and it taught me to be honest! I belong to a church tradition that got started by asking each other at every meeting how things were going spiritually, and meant it. But now we (like so many other churches) tend to hide from pain and suffering rather than coming together and bearing up under it to change and grow. I always sought to show people my best side. NOW, however, I had reached a point where I was completely helpless to fix myself and had to find people that could provide me with help. I found Prodigals, a counselor, and some other friends to help me. I needed real people to help me find healing. I also learned that the only times that I really grow have been when I have been challenged and face real struggles in life. Only when it hurts to some degree (as one way of looking at it) can I truly grow. I can prepare at other times, but I personally seem to need challenges in my life to actually change.

    • Brian, I’m so glad that you’ve found an accountable community. That’s so important, but many times so difficult. Press on!

      Peace, Chris
      Covenant Eyes

  11. Hi. I’m a woman, and struggle with sexual addiction. By the grace of God I have just come out of the worst relapse ever. And as I never want it to happen again, I have decided to go to SA for help. I will be in contact with only women internationally mostly, and already daily keep in contact with a Christian lady who is also with SA. I saw this as my last resort. I have tried everything else I can think of to get free. Now I’m ready to not only get free, but stay free. Yep there are things i don’t agree with, the biggest one being that the addicts always identify as an addict. I kinda think that when Im free, I’m free, no longer an addict. I know I will always have weaknesses, that is why I want to try SA, to see if it helps with lasting purity. And I have no one else around me who knows this sort of problem and who knows how to help. So im trying, I’m fighting for freedom by God’s strength, through SA and others who support and help me. God is everything to me, and He always will be. But I choose to take the tools of recovery that are offered.

  12. I was involved in a CR group in our church but it became a gossip area where I felt judged and ashamed to attended. It has also cause problems in my marriage. In no way should I feel this way in my church, I no longer feel safe to shared my feelings.

    • Hi Jeff – I’m so sorry to hear that. What a horrible representation of what Biblical accountability is supposed to look like, which is trusting, loving, supportive. It sounds like your experience was exactly the opposite. Again, I’m sorry. I can only encourage you to try again, because there are good groups out there. Maybe an online group of some kind?, or (registrations closed at the moment, but more coming). Our e-book, “Coming Clean,” explains better what we hope Biblical accountability can look like:

      Peace, Chris
      Covenant Eyes

      Peace, Chris

  13. We are the church not the building. I have been to church my entire life and never have I had the spiritual awakening that I recieved in 12 step meetings. Jesus didnt say go to church he said we are the church. He also didnt hang out with church goers he hung out with the sinners, the addicts, drunkards the losers. He also didnt say to follow christians he said to follow me. It makes me sick to see people in the church saying all you need to do is stop or read the bible. Or come to church more when most of them have no clue what it is to be an addict.I have been dipped dunked everything but spayed and nuetered trying to get free from addictions. When your sick you go to a doctor. When your building a house you go to a contractor. When your a addict you go to a recovered addict to find out what they did to get free. Freedom has only came through the 12 steps for me. And I am not alone in this. The numbers dont lie. The bible says knock and the door will be open. When you seek me with all your heart you will find me. I dont have to tell people who God is. He still to this day does an amazing job showing people who he is.

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