Home Posts My Church Said I Needed Sex Addicts Anonymous, So I Went. Here's What Happened.
My Church Said I Needed Sex Addicts Anonymous, So I Went. Here's What Happened.
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My Church Said I Needed Sex Addicts Anonymous, So I Went. Here's What Happened.


There are 12 women in the room, including myself, all seated in a circle of plastic folding chairs, some of us holding foam cups full of the free instant coffee offered to us at the door, and I am already on my second cup.

“Hello, my name is Angela, and I'm a sex addict,” the woman across from me says.

The other women respond in unison, "Hi Angela."

“This week, I... uh... I’ve been struggling with watching porn again,” she adds.

Sweat drips down my brows as I listen to each of the women, clockwise, take a turn speaking. Soon it will be my turn, and I feel a knot forming in my stomach and a wave of nausea wash over me. They all continue to confess their transgressions of lust, masturbation, and late night pornography-viewing escapades.

“Good day, my name is Samantha...”

I pause for a moment, wondering if I should say the next line. The group leader is staring at me with her eyes wide open, as if she's looking into my soul.

“... And I have a sex problem.”

***
I was 23 when I went to my first Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting, and I truly believed that I had a sex addiction. For my entire life, my evangelical Christian community had taught me that any sexual act, thought, or desire between a man and a woman outside of marriage was a grave sin against God, and that the path to my salvation hinged on my ability to remain sexually pure.

I was only in SAA for a little over a year, but my time there and the events that brought me there had a long-lasting impact on me; I now know that I was never a sex addict, but rather a victim of a dangerously insidious purity culture that still exists in many religious contexts today.

***
My parents were not religious, but when I was in the second grade, my father encountered Jesus in a hospital waiting room; my mother nearly died of cancer that night, and when she survived, my parents vowed to follow God for the rest of their lives. A week later, I was in a Sunday school class at the Methodist church down the street.

It was there that I learned about sin and salvation. I was told that God created the world, was constantly angry at humans for messing up, and then sent his one and only son to die so that everyone else could be free. Our teachers warned us about sin at every opportunity. I was riddled with guilt my entire childhood and prayed to God every night before bed for forgiveness.

Our youth group leader told us in sixth grade that God saved her from her lustful ways. She said she used to put her worth in men and finding love. She explained she was empty, dirty, and lost until God found her. “God saved me from my sexual sins,” she said, crying.

I went home that night and prayed to God for hours, terrified that something similar would happen to me, and I begged God to save me from the same fate.

I first heard the term "sexual sin" in sixth grade, when our youth group leader told us that God saved her from her lustful ways. She explained that she used to put her worth in men and finding love, and that she was empty, dirty, and lost before God found her.

In high school, I delved even deeper into my Christian community and began attending a high school ministry group called Young Life, where we talked a lot about sexual sin, such as sleeping with your boyfriend, masturbating, or watching porn. I was fascinated by sex and my body, and I was constantly fantasizing about what it would be like to make out with the guy who sat behind me in chemistry.



My sophomore year, someone in my algebra class told me about a new site called Pornhub, and I was instantly hooked. Porn was a secret, always available outlet for all of the sexual desires I had to keep hidden; I could explore my body and my sexuality without anyone else finding out.

In college, I became a Young Life leader and continued to invest time in my church community; I was still watching porn, but I was trying to wean myself from it while maintaining the appearance of purity that my community admired; but after a while, the weight of knowing that God knew what I was doing became too heavy to bear, so I decided to confess my sins to my friends a few times.

Everyone said they were proud of me for being honest about such a heinous sin. I was "brave" for my vulnerability. When I told my mentor, she congratulated me on such a huge step of faith and recommended a few "sex/porn addict" support groups, one of which was SAA. I was hesitant at first, but I already had a friend who attended the group, so I tagged along with her the following week.

Our women's-only meeting was held on Tuesday nights at a Baptist church down the street from my apartment, and I would occasionally see men walking into their meeting across the hall; I tried a co-ed meeting once, but I felt so anxious and embarrassed that I threw up my Chick-fil-A sandwich as soon as I got home.

Everyone in my group was a devout Christian, all trying desperately to avoid our lust sins. After a few months, I was assigned a mentor, Ella, who had been a recovering sex addict for over five years. She was bright and bubbly, but her shoulders hung low. She and I would meet 30 minutes before each weekly group meeting to go over what I had been working on.

I was particularly nervous during one of my meetings with Ella because I had developed a crush on a coworker and he had reciprocated my feelings. I was nervous to tell Ella that we had kissed the previous weekend because we were discouraged from engaging in any type of sexual activity, including kissing, in SAA.

Ella was astounded by my confession, and she didn't think it was a good idea for me to be making out with random guys while I was dealing with my recovery. I remained silent and agreed with her, but I felt uneasy on my way home that night.

For the first time since I began attending SAA, I was enraged; I was enraged at Ella for telling me what to do about my situation, as well as at everyone else in my church who had done the same.

As I drove home, tears streamed down my cheeks and anger welled up within me, but I quickly tried to quiet my mind and prayed to God for forgiveness.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get over how I felt after that meeting with Ella. I was now hyperaware of the shame in my life and all around me; it was palpable. I would sit in church services, Bible studies, and SAA meetings, trying to drown out my anger with prayers to God, but it was too late. I had let the anger in, and I couldn't ignore it any longer.

I finally realized that my entire life had been made up of other people's decisions based on fear, misinformation, and attempts to control, and I now saw the truth: my sexuality, my body, the things I felt, the questions I had, and my desires were not evil.

I had left Sex Addicts Anonymous by my 24th birthday, and I had also left my church community. The anger I allowed myself to feel after that meeting with Ella was the first time I truly allowed myself to push back against what my community believed; it was the first time I trusted myself, and there was no turning back after that.

I finally realized that my entire life had been made up of other people's decisions based on fear, misinformation, and attempts to control. I now saw the truth: my sexuality, my body, the things I felt, the questions I had, and my desires weren't evil; none of it meant something was wrong with me. I wasn't addicted to sex, and I didn't need the help I had been convinced I needed.

Walking away was terrifying because I had spent my entire life believing what my community had told me, and I was still afraid I was making the wrong choice. Maybe God would smite me and condemn me to hell. Maybe my life would be miserable without the church. But choosing to turn away from shame, being able to listen to the intuition that had been inside me all along, felt well worth the risk.



***
I've been at peace with my experience for almost seven years, thanks to therapy and people in my life who encourage me to be myself on a daily basis. I lost a handful of close friends after leaving my faith community, but my family was supportive of my decision, despite their religious beliefs.

It's difficult to find a single universal definition for "sex addiction" because the term is hotly debated among medical experts and isn't recognized as a diagnosable addiction by a large portion of the psychology community.

It's difficult to find a single universal definition for "sex addiction" because the term is hotly debated among medical experts and isn't recognized as a diagnosable addiction by a large portion of the psychology community..The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) no longer recognizes sexual addiction as a mental health disorder, in part because people do not experience withdrawal symptoms or a physical need for sex in the same way that they would with drugs or alcohol.

It's difficult to find a single universal definition for "sex addiction" because the term is hotly debated among medical experts and isn't recognized as a diagnosable addiction by a large portion of the psychology community..The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) no longer recognizes sexual addiction as a mental health disorder, in part because people do not experience withdrawal symptoms or a physical need for sex in the same way that they would with drugs or alcohol..It's also because the person diagnosing a sex addiction frequently has their own moral judgments or biases about sex.

It's difficult to find a single universal definition for "sex addiction" because the term is hotly debated among medical experts and isn't recognized as a diagnosable addiction by a large portion of the psychology community..The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) no longer recognizes sexual addiction as a mental health disorder, in part because people do not experience withdrawal symptoms or a physical need for sex in the same way that they would with drugs or alcohol..It's also because the person diagnosing a sex addiction frequently has their own moral judgments or biases about sex..People now frequently use compulsive sexual disorder instead of sex addiction to describe a "persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges resulting in repetitive sexual behavior."

It's difficult to find a single universal definition for "sex addiction" because the term is hotly debated among medical experts and isn't recognized as a diagnosable addiction by a large portion of the psychology community..The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) no longer recognizes sexual addiction as a mental health disorder, in part because people do not experience withdrawal symptoms or a physical need for sex in the same way that they would with drugs or alcohol..It's also because the person diagnosing a sex addiction frequently has their own moral judgments or biases about sex..People now frequently use compulsive sexual disorder instead of sex addiction to describe a "persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges resulting in repetitive sexual behavior.".” The use of both terms remains contentious, particularly as more research on these topics is conducted.

It's difficult to find a single universal definition for "sex addiction" because the term is hotly debated among medical experts and isn't recognized as a diagnosable addiction by a large portion of the psychology community..The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) no longer recognizes sexual addiction as a mental health disorder, in part because people do not experience withdrawal symptoms or a physical need for sex in the same way that they would with drugs or alcohol..It's also because the person diagnosing a sex addiction frequently has their own moral judgments or biases about sex..People now frequently use compulsive sexual disorder instead of sex addiction to describe a "persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges resulting in repetitive sexual behavior.".” The use of both terms remains contentious, particularly as more research on these topics is conducted..

Many medical experts agree that many people who claim to be "sex addicts" are not actually engaging in more sexual behavior than normal, but rather come from highly religious backgrounds and experience higher levels of moral guilt because of their sexuality.

For the majority of my life, I was told that my sexual desires were a sin against God, which I believe led to personal shame and the belief that I couldn't control my own natural sexual urges. However, I now know that my curiosity about my sexuality and my body was healthy, and that everything became crystal clear when I removed the strict moral lens of religious purity culture.

The evangelical church's perspective on sexual purity and sex addiction is harmful; for individuals like me who grew up in these environments, the concept of purity can foster shame, isolation, and compulsive thoughts and behaviors, which are then frequently mislabeled as sex addictions.

For our society as a whole, it is clear that these teachings have a much broader impact and can lead to a lack of comprehensive sex education, a lack of accountability, misogyny, homophobia, and, in some cases, the sexual violence that we see in our culture on a daily basis.

Though I hope its leaders realize how harmful their teachings are and take action to do better, I know that these beliefs are the foundation of the church and, thus, unlikely to change. However, I am hopeful that by speaking out, I will help others who are going through what I went through.

Samantha Boesch is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn, New York. She writes about health, wellness, and sexuality and is pursuing a career as a sex educator. You can follow her on Instagram at @SamanthaBoesch and Twitter at @SamanthaBoesch.

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