How Do 12-Step Groups Deal With Same-Sex Attraction?

Among the secular 12-step fellowships dealing with sex addiction, many hold a broad view of what behavior can constitute sexual sobriety. The literature of one group says, “Our members define their own boundaries with the guidance of their Higher Power, sponsors and other group members. We encourage our members to discover and explore what healthy sexuality means to them.”  If “healthy sexuality” is self-defined, homosexual behavior with the context of a “committed relationship” or gay marriage (in locations where legal) could be accepted as sobriety.

Those in ministry who hold to traditional, biblical teachings on homosexual activity and cohabitation may find it difficult to buy into a subjective sobriety definition. One group (Sexaholics Anonymous), however, does embrace a sobriety definition that is consistent with scriptural teachings many if not most evangelicals embrace concerning sexuality.

Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) is one of a number of 12 step fellowships dealing with recovery from compulsive sexual thinking and behavior.  While other fellowships may make no distinction between same-sex and opposite-sex behavior, SA explicitly defines sexual sobriety to exclude same-sex behavior. Founded in the late 1970s and built upon principles taken directly from Alcoholics Anonymous, SA debated for many years broadening the definition of sobriety to include cohabiting and same-sex couples, but in 1999 reaffirmed a conservative view of sobriety in a vote dubbed the “Cleveland Clarification.”

This unique aspect of SA sobriety has actually drawn many members dealing with same-sex issues to SA.  Surveys of SA members show that something like one in five members have experienced same-sex lust.

At the July 2007 SA International Convention a survey was conducted of 176 SA members. Asked the object of their sexual fantasy and acting out, 23% nominated same-sex and a further 7% indicated both genders. (source)

Help for Those With Same-Sex Attractions

As we speak of addictions (or “besetting sins” in religious lingo), we often find ourselves consciously (or unconsciously) rating behaviors connected with those addictions on a “scale of shame.” Certain behaviors without compulsiveness carry little or no shame—for example, eating in moderation and sexual activity within the confines of marriage. Some would place masturbation or the occasional viewing of erotic materials in this category, though in my experience, I cannot do so. I’m convinced that every addictive behavior produces shame and isolates us from God and healthy relationships with others.

As if it’s not shameful enough to struggle with lust and compulsive sexual behaviors, many pastors find themselves struggling specifically with attractions to the same gender. Some would contest that having homosexual attractions should not induce shame because sexual orientation is not a matter of choice. This is neither the time or place to debate that issue. Much said and written on this divisive and complex topic offers little compassion for the individual who experiences these attractions and finds them in conflict with his or her core values, ministry context, or biblical interpretation.

On this website, I would like to offer hope to the Christian leader whose lust or sexual desire is directed toward his or her own gender. Resources and support groups are available, but many of these “fly below the radar” because of the cultural and political hullabaloo centered on this issue.

May I suggest a few recent publications to provide fresh insight on this subject:

If you struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction, please feel welcome on this website (Sex Addicts in Ministry) and feel free to call the helpline listed in the sidebar or request to join the phone support group. You are not alone! There is help for you.