Does The Twelve-Step Program Work For Sex Addiction?

Does the 12-step program help sex addicts control their impulses and return to a less harmful way of life? In a word: yes. 

As with alcoholism and substance dependence, the 12-step program has been proven to be effective at helping sex addicts live healthier and more rewarding lives. But there are some significant differences with regard to how these programs are used in the treatment of sexual addiction. 

What is Sex Addiction? 

Before we go into how the 12-step program can help sex addicts, let’s define the condition and its key characteristics. 

Sexual addiction is referred to many ways.  A few are excessive sexuality, hypersexuality, problematic sexual behavior, and compulsive sexual behavior. All these terms refer to the same condition, which is characterized by an intense and repetitive obsession with sex. 

The fixation itself can take many forms, including recurring fantasies, uncontrollable urges, and excessive or unusual sexual behavior. These often result in negative consequences, affecting the individual’s work, personal relationships, and social life, and causing considerable distress

It is estimated that as much as 3% to 6% of the population in the United States has some form of sexual addiction

The 12-Step Program for Sex Addicts 

12-step programs are available to sex addicts around the world in many countries.  Addiction research shows that successful sex addiction recovery will consistently hold for those who immerse themselves into a Twelve Step culture. Going to therapy is not enough, so Coeur d’Alene Counseling strongly supports clients attending and participating in Twelve Step.

There are many 12-Step programs devoted to overcoming compulsive sexual behavior.  They are often referred to as “S-fellowships.”  The five most known S-fellowships are Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous , Sexual Compulsives Anonymous , Sexual Recovery Anonymous , and Sexaholics Anonymous.

In Israel, the SA 12-step program is the most popular self-help program available to sex addicts. While most programs are administered to entire groups, they are also offered individually to adults and adolescents. 

12-step programs for sex addicts are typically provided independently and aren’t subject to government supervision or regulation. Furthermore, most aren’t administered or overseen by therapists or any other type of professional specialist. 

How 12-step Programs for Sex Addiction Differs from AA and NA Programs 

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) both utilize 12-step programs as the core of their treatment approach. But the program as administered to sex addicts has a significant difference. 

While AA and NA define abstinence as a total cessation of substance use, sex addiction 12 step programs’ definitions have more flexibility. In some programs, sex addicts can define their sobriety a bit differently with which particular activity or behavior is most harmful to them and focus their recovery efforts on that. Other programs implement a single definition that applies to all program members.  

Expectations With The 12-Step Program 

Surprisingly, there is relatively little data on how 12-step programs affect those with sexual addiction. In particular, little is known about how much advancement in such programs affects sex addicts’ sexual behaviors and cognitions.

A study entitled “Compulsive sexual behavior: A twelve-step therapeutic approach” (Yaniv Efrati and Mateusz Gola) sought to examine how progress through the 12-step program affected the severity of sexual addiction in affected individuals. 

The study mainly focused on how the program affected certain aspects of participants’ behavior, including their willingness to seek treatment, suppression of sexual desires, and self-control. The study also noted factors such as feelings of helplessness, distress, mental health, and how much social support they received.

The authors of the study had certain expectations of program participants. Most significantly, they expected an increasing reduction in the severity of sexual addiction symptoms the further the individual advanced in the program and the longer they practiced abstinence. 

Results Of The 12-Step Program 

How did the participants fare? The researchers found that the further the subjects progressed with the program, the less likely they were to avoid seeking help. They also experienced fewer unwanted consequences related to their sexual desires and had better control over their urges. Similar improvements were observed the longer the participants remained abstinent. 

Another study showed a direct link between the duration of attendance in a 12-step program. In general, the longer a participant remained in the program, the less distress and negative sexual effects they experienced. Most participants also showed significant improvements in their mental health, reduced feelings of helplessness, and more control over their sexual urges. 


The results of these studies strongly suggest that 12-step programs can be beneficial for those struggling with sexual addiction. For most sex addicts, the best results are achieved by remaining as long as possible and advancing to the higher steps.