GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS

One of the functions of the Board of Trustees is to “provide guidance in matters of policy.” Over the years, the Board of Trustees (BOT), formerly called the S-Anon International Committee (SIC), has received questions from individuals and groups of S-Anon members about a variety of issues. Some of the questions have been asked so often that it seemed more efficient to draft letters of response to particular issues that could be tailored to individual circumstances, rather than having to start from the beginning to draft each response.

All of the responses to date have included statements that we felt were of universal importance when considering any Tradition- or Concept-related issues:

  • The Traditions are our pattern for guidance in S-Anon, since they provide the unity that affords personal progress for the greatest number in our fellowship. In reviewing any issue, we focus on how the Traditions speak to that particular issue.
  • The Board of Trustees is composed of individuals, and any Traditions-related issue brings up feelings and opinions as we discuss it. In this regard, we are very aware of the importance of applying Tradition Two. That is, we thoroughly study and consider all elements of the problem before coming to a decision, trusting that a Higher Power is expressing Himself through this group conscience process.
  • Tradition Five reminds us that our primary spiritual aim is to help families of sexaholics, and Tradition One suggests that our common welfare and unity depend on our willingness to agree with what is best for S-Anon as a whole.

The responses below are not presented in their entirety, but have been edited in the interests of space to eliminate redundancy. Each response should be considered in light of the statements above.

The BOT is aware that it can set no absolutes for the fellowship. Each group is autonomous so long as it does nothing that could affect other S-Anon groups or S-Anon as a whole. While each issue presents unique challenges within unique groups, we believe that the wisdom of the Traditions can help us not only to resolve the issues, but to grow.

When groups are called upon to make decisions in areas that may affect S-Anon as a whole, we suggest that you keep in mind the process described in the section on “Group Decision Making” in Part 1 of the S-Anon/S-Ateen Service Manual, reprinted below:

What is a Group Conscience?
As stated in Tradition Two, “Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern” and do not exercise personal power or authority. The Second Tradition of S-Anon indicates that important decisions within the group are made by means of what is called a “group conscience.” Simply put, a group conscience asks for a show of opinion by members of the group, but there is more to it than just a “majority rule” voting procedure. Together, the members seek to be guided by a Higher Power in reaching a decision that will be good for the group as a whole rather than for any one member or small group of members.

“When group members decide that a group conscience should be taken, we do our best to assure that the following criteria are met:

  • All group members are well informed on the issue.
  • All sides of the issue have been heard and thoroughly discussed.
  • All members have had advance notice of the date of the upcoming group conscience.
  • A substantial majority supports the decision.

“When these conditions have been met, we feel confident that a loving God has been expressed in our process. We guard against unintentional domination by any individual or small group by making sure that the group conscience process is carried out in a thoughtful and prayerful manner.” (p. 28)

QUESTIONS ABOUT CONFERENCE APPROVED LITERATURE (CAL)

What about using non-CAL in meetings?

In reviewing this issue, we focus on how Traditions One, Four, and Six in particular speak to using outside literature. Paraphrasing Al-Anon’s Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions, Tradition One says

“An important element in our unity is the use of Conference Approved Literature (CAL) in our group work. The [S-Anon] message and the way it is delivered in our books and booklets is unique. What we read in them has been approved by the members of the [S-Anon Board of Trustees and the S-Anon Literature Committee], which represent the membership worldwide. Our literature tells it the [S-Anon] way, neither diluted nor distorted by a different point of view, as these ideas might be presented in other spiritual or scientific writings.” (p. 88)

Again paraphrasing, Tradition Four notes

“At some meetings, members have introduced literature which has not been Conference Approved but which they felt was superior to our own… But with the growth of [S-Anon], it has become important to have the message consistent in keeping with the principles of the program… A unified message in our literature is the glue that holds [S-Anon] together.” (p. 104)

With regard to Tradition Six,

“In keeping with this Tradition, [S-Anon] does not endorse films or literature produced by other organizations, no matter how good they may be.” (p. 112)

In summary, we note that the S-Anon / S-Ateen Service Manual says

“As mentioned previously, our meetings focus on the S-Anon approach to recovery. In the spirit of unity, during our meetings we avoid the mention of specific titles or authors, or discussion of any publications other than S-Anon Conference Approved Literature. (Literature published by S-Anon, SA, Al-Anon, and AA is Conference Approved for use in our meetings.) This recommendation includes mention or discussion of specific television shows, movies, Web sites, magazines, articles, etc. Experience has shown us several other reasons for using only Conference Approved Literature during meetings:

  • It speaks directly to our recovery from the effects of sexaholism, based upon the experiences of other S-Anon members (Tradition Five).
  • It focuses on the solution rather than the problem and explains the Twelve-Step approach to recovery.
  • It helps us avoid even the appearance of endorsing, directly or indirectly, any theory of sexual addiction or co-addiction, or particular therapeutic approach to recovery (Tradition Six).” (p. 27)

We believe that the wisdom of these Traditions, built on the experience of thousands in recovery, is the rationale behind not using outside literature during meetings. Members are free to share with each other as individuals outside of meeting time any helpful literature and experiences that lie outside the realm of the S-Anon program. As our Service Manual says, “These Traditions and guidelines merely help to assure that our meetings present a strong and clear picture of S-Anon’s purpose and function.”

We also believe that our S-Anon Conference Approved Literature is a virtually bottomless treasure trove to be continually mined for wisdom. For example, in addition to using our own S-Anon Step Study Guide (S-Anon Twelve Steps) and Workbook, groups hosting Step meetings can also benefit from the “Twelve and Twelve” of Al-Anon and AA, as well as the Step sections of Alcoholics Anonymous (the AA Big Book), Sexaholics Anonymous (the SA White Book), and the pertinent sections of the Al-Anon books How Al-Anon Works for Families and Friends of Alcoholics and Paths to Recovery.

What about using the Bible during our meetings?

[The statements shown in the previous response were included in the response to this question, with the addition of the following paragraph.]

“…because the Bible is not just any book, but a book clearly tied to specific religious faiths, we remind you that the first obstacle to recovery is “the discussion of any religious denomination… Let us not defeat our purpose by discussing any particular religious denomination.” S-Anon is a fellowship of individuals that practice many religions, including non-Christian. To keep it safe for us all, the discussion at our meetings does not refer to specific religious writings or beliefs. Members, of course, do not leave their faiths at the front door of S-Anon meetings. In meetings we simply share our experience on spiritual matters in a general way that respects the right of each individual to believe in a Higher Power of his or her own understanding. (For example, “This morning I was reading about forgiveness in the book of my faith tradition. As I meditated on the reading, I became aware that I still had not forgiven the sexaholic in my life…”)

Is it all right to maintain a lending library of Non-CAL?

Your question was “Does an after-the-meeting “lending library” of outside literature violate the Traditions?” In reviewing this issue, we focus on how Traditions One, Four and Six in particular speak to outside literature. Even though you are not planning on using the outside literature during the meeting, we believe that just announcing that your group has a “lending library” of outside literature would constitute endorsement for this outside literature.

Is it all right to make our own copies of CAL?

The Literature Committee must deny your request to reproduce S-Anon Literature for newcomers at your meeting, and we want you to understand the reason why.

In the early 1990s, the S-Anon International Committee (forerunner to the Board of Trustees) determined that, in order to be fully self-supporting and preserve S-Anon’s unity, the fellowship should further develop its own literature. To make sure that S-Anon’s unique message would remain consistent, a Conference Approval process similar to that of Al-Anon was developed. The forty volunteer members of the S-Anon Literature Committee began to develop literature that was truly our own experience, strength, and hope. They continue their work today.

We recognize that your newcomer’s packet does not change the content of S-Anon literature and that you intended to run it with attribution. In order to preserve unity, though, S-Anon does not permit wholesale reproduction of copyrighted literature. We ask that members and others who use our literature purchase it from the S-Anon World Service Office. First and foremost, this respects the copyright of the literature and ensures that only the most recent versions of our literature are in circulation. Second, the affixation of the S-Anon logo helps readers know the literature is “S-Anon.” That is, it helps uphold the safety of our meetings and programs; what a member sees and reads in one group will be the same as that used in another group. Finally, purchasing all literature from S-Anon helps to support our World Service Office and the Twelfth Step work that happens through it.

Tradition Four states that “each group should be autonomous, except in matters affecting another group or S-Anon or SA as a whole.” While purchasing from the World Service Office obviously entails a greater financial cost than producing your own packet, we hope this explanation illustrates that producing your own packet might be a greater cost to S-Anon as a whole.

We commend your group’s desire to support newcomers. Many groups offer the Newcomers Booklet (P-3) free to newcomers. Other groups offer a less-costly option of The S-Anon Checklist (L-1) and a local phone/meeting list that the group has generated. In addition, our Web site contains a number of pieces of literature appropriate for newcomers that can be downloaded at no charge: What is S-Anon?, The S-Anon Checklist, The S-Ateen Checklist, S-Anon and S-Ateen posters, and Information for Professionals about S-Anon and S-Ateen.

QUESTIONS ABOUT THE MEETING FORMAT

What prayers are suggested for use in closing our meetings?

In response to your letter concerning prayers that are appropriate when closing S-Anon meetings, we refer you to the Conference Approved S-Anon Meeting Format that is printed in our book, Working The S-Anon Program and in our Service Manual. It states: “Leader asks someone to lead the group in saying the Serenity Prayer, Third Step Prayer, or other prayer from our Conference Approved Literature.” The Lord’s Prayer is not printed in or mentioned in any literature published by S-Anon, and as far as we know, it is not printed in AA, Al-Anon or SA literature. The Lord’s Prayer is occasionally mentioned in AA literature, but the actual text of the prayer is not included. The Serenity Prayer, Third Step Prayer, Seventh Step Prayer, and Eleventh Step Prayer can all be found in our S-Anon literature; they were originally adopted from AA literature. Therefore, these prayers are all Conference Approved for use in our meetings.

In addition, “Tradition Six cautions us about diversion from our primary spiritual aim: In keeping with this Tradition, [S-Anon] does not endorse films or literature produced by other organizations, no matter how good they may be.” (From Al-Anon’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 112.). It seems to us that use of a prayer contained in spiritual writing clearly tied to specific religious faiths [predominantly Christian] would constitute a deviation from Tradition Six.

Along the same lines, our “Obstacles to Recovery” Conference Approved reading cautions us against “the discussion of any religious denomination” (emphasis added). S-Anon is a fellowship of individuals that practice many different religions, so to keep our meetings comfortable for all, we are urged not to refer to any specific religious writings or beliefs.

Do We Have to Use the Conference Approved Meeting Format

The following statements appear in our S-Anon/S-Ateen Service Manual:

“The Meeting Format contained in Part 4 [of the Service Manual] is Conference Approved, which means that it has been developed and revised according to the experiences of members of S-Anon groups worldwide. We suggest that you try it and then adapt it, if desired, to suit the needs of your group.” (p. 18)

“…as stated in our Fourth Tradition, groups may exercise their autonomy and choose to customize the Meeting Format, including the “Meeting Guidelines” section, to better serve their needs.” (p. 17)

“Making changes to the Conference Approved Readings, however, presents an interpretation of how the program works that may be contrary to the collective experience of S-Anon members, even though this may not be the intention of those creating the substitutions.” (p. 17)

“… adaptation of the Meeting Format does not mean changing any words in the S-Anon or S-Ateen Conference Approved readings.” (p. 19)

QUESTIONS ABOUT REQUIREMENTS FOR MEMBERSHIP

Are children allowed in S-Anon meetings?

The key Traditions guiding our thinking on the subject of children in meetings are Traditions One, Three, and Twelve. Tradition One: Our common welfare should come first… With the exception of pre-verbal infants, the presence of children who are not attending S-Anon gatherings for mutual aid can have the effect of limiting the sharing by other S-Anon members. Members who need to share adult concerns may feel inhibited from doing so with children present because it would expose the children to age-inappropriate discussions. Likewise, if a pre-verbal infant becomes a distraction or disruption to member(s) in a meeting, then the S-Anon(s) bothered by the distracting behavior should gently let the parent know that for the common welfare the child should be removed from the meeting. “Tradition One asks us to recognize that the needs or desires of one individual … do not take precedence over the need for the S-Anon fellowship to maintain unity of purpose and message.” (Working the S-Anon Program, p. 29)

Tradition Three contains two key points: First, that members who gather for mutual aid may call themselves an S-Anon Family Group. Second, that there must be a problem of sexaholism in a relative or friend. If a person of any age is seeking to give and receive support (mutual aid) and he or she identifies a problem of sexaholism in a relative or friend, then that person meets the only membership requirement of S-Anon.

The fact that a child is related to a sexaholic, is affected by sexaholism, or has a sexaholic friend does not automatically make the child a member of S-Anon. The key is the child’s expressed need for giving and receiving support and his or her identification of a problem of sexaholism in a relative or friend. Children who are brought to an S-Anon Family Group simply because of a childcare problem do not attend in the spirit of Tradition Three. Children are not S-Anon members unless they are attending to get help for their personal pain and recovery from the effects of sexaholism.

Although SA and S-Anon are based on the principles of AA and Al-Anon, due to the unique aspects of the disease of sexaholism, the subject matter at meetings and at conventions may include adult themes. While our guidelines caution speakers not to share explicit or overly graphic material, even appropriate sharing may not be suitable for minors. We suggest that parents who might encourage their children to attend S-Anon meetings first consider the developmental level of the child, the level of knowledge the child has about the issue of sexaholism in the family, and any other factors unique to the situation.

The Twelfth Tradition of S-Anon also comes into play when considering whether or not it is appropriate for children to attend S-Anon Meetings. Children present at an S-Anon Family Group gathering of any kind who are not there for the express purpose of giving and receiving support and comfort can compromise the anonymity of the other members.1 Children may have difficulty appreciating the need to keep in confidence what they hear and who they see at S-Anon gatherings. Consequently, their presence could pose a threat to the anonymity of other S-Anon, S-Ateen, and SA members.

While many families would enjoy having a meal together with their non-member children while at S-Anon conventions, marathons, and the like, we think doing so goes against our Traditions unless the gathering or function has been deemed open to the public. Any function that uses the S-Anon name falls under the umbrella of our Twelve Traditions, and all aspects of that function should be guided by the Traditions for the duration of the event. We think, as a general guideline, children who are pre-adolescent are too young to meet the spirit and letter of our only membership requirement.

Are teens allowed in S-Anon Meetings?

It seems to us that the key Traditions to guide our thinking on this issue are Three, Four, and Five. The Third Tradition states that “The relatives of sexaholics, when gathered together for mutual aid, may call themselves an S-Anon Family Group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation. The only requirement for membership is that there be a problem of sexaholism in a relative or friend.” This Tradition defines who is eligible to belong to an S-Anon group. Simply put, anyone who feels they meet this requirement may go to any S-Anon group.

Paraphrasing from Al-Anon’s Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions, Tradition Three also means that

“It is up to each individual to make the judgment regarding the circumstances of one’s personal situation and need; hence, each person must decide for himself if he needs [S-Anon].” (p. 100)

In this self-defining respect, S-Anon and all Twelve Step fellowships are distinguished from most other types of organizations where membership is usually determined by members of the organization itself. Here, all who come and say they need help because they are bothered by someone’s sexaholism are welcome at our meetings.

1 However, a group conscience may decide that an exception can be made, as in the case of pre-verbal infants, so long as the child’s presence is not disturbing to the group or an individual member of the group.

It is interesting to note Al-Anon’s experience with this issue:

“In the early years, the only source of help for children affected by the drinking of others was to attend Al-Anon and AA meetings. It was at these meetings with their parents that they learned about alcoholism and its effects on the family. In 1957, a high school boy in California felt the need to talk with others who could identify with his sharing. Out of this need, other Al-Anon Family Groups were created and called ‘Alateen.’ As an integral part of Al-Anon, Alateen members follow the same program.” (Al-Anon’s Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions, p. xi-xii)

“Most [Alateen] groups are made up of teenagers, but may include youngsters below the teen years. Older teens are often encouraged to attend Al-Anon meetings.” (Alateen: Hope for Children of Alcoholics, p. 32)

“Alateens are members of the Al-Anon fellowship. Where there is no Alateen meeting available, teens seeking help are encouraged to attend Al-Anon meetings.” (Al-Anon/Alateen Service Manual, p. 61)

Teens in S-Anon meetings present a dilemma of sorts, though. Our meetings sometimes include the frank discussion of sexual matters. Whether or not a teen should participate in such a discussion is a subjective issue. Some teens are clearly more mature than others, and what can be said in the presence of one teen may differ from what can be said with another. It is important to recall our primary spiritual aim, stated in Tradition Five: “Each S-Anon Family Group has but one purpose: to help families of sexaholics. We do this by practicing the Twelve Steps of S-Anon, by encouraging and understanding our sexaholic relatives, and by welcoming and giving comfort to the families of sexaholics.”

Neither Tradition Three nor Five give an age limit. Rather they speak broadly of families, relatives, and friends and the necessity of welcoming all who say they meet this criteria. Occasionally, those who qualify for S-Anon and who attend meetings with us may seem to cause disturbing issues to surface for us. Yet we are called to welcome all who qualify and give them comfort, regardless of our personal discomfort. We have noted that as groups grapple with how best to welcome and accommodate those who are different than the majority, these groups are often enriched and strengthened, not only in their understanding of the Traditions, but also in the expanded common experience to which these newcomers contribute.

Finally, given the Traditions’ mandate to welcome all family members and friends of sexaholics, how can groups best do that? We offer some options from the experiences of others. After having teens attend S-Anon meetings, groups in several areas have started S-Ateen meetings, using the Conference Approved S-Ateen Meeting Format. Some groups welcome teens by ensuring safe sharing in S-Anon meetings. That is, they break up into smaller sharing groups, ensuring that the teen and their parent (if present) are in different groups. Some groups take special care to immediately match teen members up with a sponsor. Finally, those who have dealt with the issue of teens in meetings note the importance of asking their Higher Power for insight on the “how-to” of accommodating teens.

What is S-Anon’s position on meetings “for women only”?

In reviewing this issue, we focus on how Traditions One, Three, Four, and Five speak to the issue of different types of meetings.

Paraphrasing Al-Anon’s Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions, Tradition Three says

“’The ONLY requirement for membership is that there be a problem of [sexaholism] in a relative or friend.’ This simply means that anyone who fits that description may go to any [S-Anon] group. Even if a group was formed with the intention of dealing with the special problems of one category of persons, its meetings are open to anyone who is eligible to belong to [S-Anon].” (p. 100, emphasis added)

In this self-defining respect, S-Anon and all Twelve Step fellowships are distinguished from most other types of organizations where membership is usually determined by members of the organization itself. Here, all who come and say they need help because they are bothered by someone’s sexaholism are welcome at our meetings.

Again paraphrasing, Tradition Four suggests that

“Any autonomous action of the group, however, is measured by its effect on another group, or [S-Anon], or [SA] as a whole… This Tradition has made it easy…to see that every decision we make could be tested by the question: Is this good for our fellowship?” (p. 104-5)

We believe that the wisdom of these Traditions is the rationale behind the distinctions between “groups” and “special meetings.” There should be nothing to deter members who seek to establish a special meeting to deal with the unique problems of one category of persons. However, this special meeting is distinct from an S-Anon group, which by the definition of Tradition Three must be open to any individual who qualifies for S-Anon. Only S-Anon groups that adhere to Tradition Three may be registered with the World Service Office and be included in the S-Anon group listing (though special meetings can still be listed with the WSO), vote for Area Delegates, or vote in a Fellowshipwide Group Conscience.

As to whether establishing special groups restricted to one category of persons affects S-Anon as a whole, we have several thoughts. We note that the incidence of these special groups in other fellowships has generally occurred after the fellowship is well-established in an area with numerous meetings. We also see that these special groups are restricted to what could be termed a “minority group” within the overall fellowship. For example, AA has the occasional “Vietnam Vets” or “Gay” group meeting in an area. However, even though the group may be publicized with its special distinction, it is clearly understood in AA that every group, regardless of any publicized special distinction, is open to any individual that qualifies by Tradition Three. Because there are still, relatively speaking, so few meetings of our fellowship, and because “women” currently do not constitute a minority in our fellowship (rather, women are clearly the vast majority), we feel that attempts to restrict groups to “women only” are not helpful to S-Anon as a whole at this time and do not add to the unity of our fellowship in carrying the message.

QUESTIONS ABOUT S-ANON EVENTS

Can S-Anon provide childcare?

“What message do I carry? Is my message focused on the Steps, Traditions, and principles of the program or is it blurred with outside issues?” (S-Anon Twelve Steps, p. 153)

In our view, any official provision of childcare by the fellowship is contrary to Traditions Four, Five and Six. Our Fourth Tradition states “when we participate in planning S-Anon events, we recognize that we conduct these activities on behalf of S-Anon at the international level, and we are thus bound to consider the guidelines that are the result of the experiences of other S-Anon groups who have planned such events.” (Working the S-Anon Program, p. 34)

Tradition Five tells us that as S-Anon members we are responsible for carrying the message, which is our primary purpose. Providing childcare may certainly be a related issue, but it is not our primary purpose.

Tradition Six states “S-Anon does not endorse, finance or lend our name to any outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property or prestige divert us from our primary spiritual aim.” If we were to become involved in childcare, S-Anon would need to ensure that our childcare providers were competent and investigate the local laws to ensure we had the necessary training, permits, child-to-provider ratios, etc. Soon, we would be diverted from our primary purpose. What if children in our care were injured or became lost? Could this drag us into public controversy over childcare?

S-Anon, as an organization, cannot provide childcare. We can, however, provide information on convention flyers, etc. about outside resources that might be available, as we frequently do regarding hotel accommodations at conventions. As individual members, we may make whatever arrangements are necessary, so long as they do not use the S-Anon name in conjunction with the provision of childcare.

What about identifying our event speaker as a therapist?

In reviewing this issue, we focused on how Traditions Three, Six and Eight speak to using caution regarding outside speakers.

Paraphrasing Al-Anon’s Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions, Tradition Three says

“Groups are frequently asked to invite speakers who may, in fact, be specialists in one helping profession or another, but who may not be familiar with the [S-Anon] approach to the problems of [sexaholism]. This Tradition helps us to guard against the confusion that results when we allow our program to be diluted.” (p. 99)

Again paraphrasing, Tradition Six suggests

“A crucial phrase in the Sixth Tradition is “never endorse, finance or lend our name to any outside enterprise.” This concept has always been important to preserve our integrity, but all the more so today because of the growing tendency for people in other organizations to use [S-Anon] to advertise or promote their theories and therapies.” (p. 111)

Tradition Eight:

“…provides guidance to the members who happen to be professionals (counselor, clergy, physician, social worker). Their exchanges in meetings should be on a member-to-member basis with their own recovery as their primary concern. They do not attend [S-Anon] meetings in their professional capacity or as experts in the field of [sex addiction/co-dependency].” (p. 119)

We also note that the S-Anon / S-Ateen Service Manual says

“We are grateful for the growing awareness of sexaholism and its effects on families and friends, and many avenues of help are available outside the S-Anon program. We have found, however, that if we allow our meetings to drift into discussion of treatment theories, religious doctrine, other recovery literature, other Twelve Step programs, etc., no matter how helpful they may have been to individual members, our purpose becomes diluted (Tradition Six) and our unity is damaged (Tradition One). S-Anon is focused solely upon the Twelve Steps of S-Anon as a path toward recovery (Tradition Five), and when our meetings do not reflect that focus, newcomers and others may get a distorted picture of our objectives.” (p. 26)

We believe that the wisdom of these Traditions is the rationale behind not publicizing a therapist as a featured speaker at events clearly identified as S-Anon events. Even if the speaker is an S-Anon member, to highlight her or his occupation detracts from the equality established by the anonymity described in Tradition Twelve as the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions.

WHAT IF A GROUP DOES NOT FOLLOW THE TRADITIONS?

Regarding the question of whether groups that do not follow the Traditions should be listed officially as S-Anon groups, our S-Anon / S-Ateen Service Manual notes

“The WSO will register any group designating itself as an S-Anon or S-Ateen Family Group, with the understanding that the group will abide by the Twelve Traditions of S-Anon and that regular group meetings will be open to all who qualify (Tradition Three).” (p. 13)