AAs Should Be Honest About Sex Problems
By Mel B.
One Member’s Plea for More Widespread Discussion and Understanding of a Seldom-Mentioned Subject in the Recovery Program
Volume 17 Issue 12
MANY people who write on the subject of sex problems feel obliged to explain that sex is basically good–that it is God’s method of guaranteeing the reproduction of mankind. This startling information is usually supplied defensively, almost as if to combat the grim possibility that sex might be legislated out of existence if somebody doesn’t present a worth-while case for it. The authors, of course, are really pleading for the right to discuss sex difficulties openly. Prudery on the printed page was vanquished a long time ago, but the near-pornography which replaced it is a poor counterfeit of honesty. Truth is still mighty hard to find, and it’s even harder to present.
How the outside world wishes to deal with this subject is not really our affair, but it is important that we face the matter more honestly in AA. AA has a number of supplementary pamphlets for employers, wives, and young alcoholics, but none on what is often the most critical problem in our fellowship. Our speakers thunder eloquently about the need for absolute honesty, but only a few hardy souls ever dare to hint that sex might have been a disturbing problem area. An outsider could easily get the impression–judging by what we print and what we say–that alcoholics don’t have sex troubles at all.
It’s a different matter when we turn to the literature published by outside observers. AA members may wish to evade the issue, but others are more objective about it. They point to sexual confusion as a significant factor in the alcoholic’s personality disturbances. Sometimes their conclusions seem hastily and unfairly drawn; when, for example, a psychiatrist uses a few representative case histories to prove that almost all alcoholics are afflicted with certain types of sexual abnormality. In general, however, sex facts are included as a matter of course in any scientific inquiry into the subject of alcoholism. And a psychiatrist who treats an alcoholic will most certainly concern himself with the patient’s sex history.
However, if we are completely honest about it, we don’t even need outside observers to tell us the extent of our sex problems. We are very familiar with the oft-repeated remark, sometimes heard after an older member has resumed drinking, “Well, the poor fellow has ‘other’ problems.” These “other” problems usually have something to do with sex. When you hear a remark like this you don’t even have to ask for further details; the emphasis on “other” conveys a world of hidden meanings. Extra-marital philandering exists in AA–though probably not on a large scale–and the pretty young woman who joins a group can expect “sponsorship” of a very thorough kind.
The truth is that alcoholics do have unusually troublesome sex problems. It would be almost unbelievable if people plagued by our kind of illness did not have various sex disturbances. We may not like to admit it, just as we did not like to admit our alcoholism. But when we say that “some poor fellow who had ‘other’ shortcomings resumed drinking,” aren’t we admitting indirectly that we understand the tremendous pressures of these “other” problems? Aren’t we conceding that misdirected sex is a formidable threat to sobriety? Aren’t we saying that AA can help a person recover if he isn’t tyrannized too severely by sex? And aren’t we also saying–by implication, of course–that since we are sober ourselves, we aren’t troubled by these problems?
After almost eleven years of continuous sobriety in the AA program, I’ve found myself growing tired of the evasion and hypocrisy surrounding this subject. I have seen the elder statesmen of AA frown their disapproval when a more honest member brought up his own sex problems and discussed them with remarkable frankness and humility. I have known AA members who thought it gay and sophisticated to laugh at an off-color joke told by a visiting speaker, but who became uneasy and embarrassed if another visiting speaker explored the relationship of sex and alcoholism. And I have seen far too many older members working overtime trying to prove that absolutely insupportable notion that alcoholics are generally “just normal folks who drank too much, too often, too long.”
Evasions and hypocrisy may serve certain individuals adequately, but in the long run we progress according to the amount of truth about ourselves we are able to digest. We achieved sobriety by admitting the truth about our drinking problem, and by applying AA’s recommended program of recovery. Do we believe that the truth–which rescued us so effectively in one instance–is somehow pernicious and undesirable if applied to other life problems?
What are these sex problems that defy discussion? Most likely they are a cross-section of the same problems that confront society outside of AA. Many alcoholics feel sexually inadequate, and have always been troubled by fears of sexual incompetence and rejection. Oddly, this may have led to frenzied promiscuity. It may have caused an unsatisfactory sex relationship in marriage. It may also have led to sex conduct that society considers immoral or deviated. In fact, it may lead in any number of directions, but the result is always pain, misery, tension and guilt.
These are only the beginnings of sorrows for the sex-troubled alcoholics who join AA. Unless they are very fortunate, they won’t find much understanding and guidance in this critical problem area. He and she will secretly fear they are sexually “different” from the majority of alcoholics, for their only trouble seems to be that “they drank too much, too often, too long.” They will be urged to take the Fifth Step, but will have to search for many a moon to find an understanding ear for all the problems. They may achieve sobriety, but it will have the characteristics of an armed truce rather than a genuine peace development.
Really, there’s no excuse for it. Sex problems are powerful and deep-seated, but they need not threaten our eligibility for true sobriety and genuine happiness. There are now many older members who have a remarkable understanding on this subject. They need only to tell the truth, so that newcomers will be encouraged to face the truth themselves. This won’t eliminate sex anxiety overnight, but it will be a good start.
We cannot guarantee that our AA program of recovery, even with its strong emphasis on personal inventory and spiritual help, will aid all alcoholics in solving the “other” problems that seem to be such a threat to continued sobriety. But it is not unreasonable to believe that a more candid approach may create a reservoir of understanding that we do not presently have.
I am not proposing that our AA meetings should become forums for morbid recitals of lecherous behavior. I am sure that “boudoir-to-boudoir” descriptions would eventually be as boring and pointless as many of the drink-by-drink accounts we now endure. Nor am I suggesting an open flaunting of intimate facts that might better be left to private discussions between individual members. My main plea is for a general climate of open-mindedness when this problem seems to be inviting discussion.
This would fulfill–not destroy–the spirit and principles of Alcoholics Anonymous.