Can a frum woman join SA?
In general, GYE discourages mixed SA meetings for religious Jews. Having a woman sex-addict in a meeting of SA guys is like bringing alcoholic beverages to an AA meeting and setting it down on the table with cups and refreshments. (Important Note: After sending this article in a chizuk e-mail and getting a lot of feedback, we see that this is not so clear cut. See the bottom of this article for more discussions on this.)
Although throughout the world it is generally accepted to have mixed SA meetings (after all, they say, "isn't real life mixed?"), GYE has learned through bitter experience that some very bad things can happen.
GYE has gotten calls on the hotline more than a few times from guys who were desperately triggered after an SA woman had come to their meeting. In once case that GYE was involved in, a single woman who was in SA for a while got sucked in to an affair with a married guy, which took her months to break off of and almost ended up destroying both of their lives. A different time, this same girl was offered a ride home by a male member who ended up molesting her. She claims that she "walked into SA for help and walked out of there needing a hell lot more than help".
Another frum SA woman (married) posted on the GYE women’s forum:
I went to my first SA meeting yesterday. It totally fed into my addiction. There were like 30 men there and just me and another woman. I got loads of attention. After the meeting, quite a few guys came over to personally welcome me and schmooze... I got a ride and even got the number of someone who said he is currently living alone and is up really late at night, so if I ever need to talk....They really are a nice bunch of guys, but I know that I need to go to different meetings that are for women only, because although this makes me feel really good - it will NOT help me.
So what can SA women do?
Firstly, some communities have women-only groups (Jerusalem, Brooklyn, etc.) For more information on such groups, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Secondly, there are world-wide SA phone conferences, some of which are for women only. Please download the PDF flyer from www.sa.org on this page for the days and times. Callers to women’s-only meetings are screened—contact the SA Central Office at 866-424-8777 for the phone number.
Other phone meetings for similar 12-Step groups can be found here: SAA and SLAA.
Why are mixed SA groups more dangerous in the religious community? Here are two possible reasons:
1) In the non-Jewish world, men spend their day surrounded by women, at work, at school and in public settings. If they want to fall, they will do it outside of SA and wouldn't come to SA to hook-up (although they may fall there too). But since the religious world is so segregated, men have much less access to women, and they are often too ashamed to start-up with women in the street. Suddenly they have easy, anonymous access to women who they know are as weak as them, and whom they can offer to "share with" and "help" with little risk. This often leads to dangerous lines being crossed.
2) In non-Jewish SA groups, the members have often crossed all the lines already, otherwise, they wouldn't be there. So if they fall in the meetings, they are also falling outside of the meetings. But in religious SA groups, many men are there just for porn and masturbation issues and because they feel they are living a double life, but they haven't crossed the line to live acting out. Having SA women in the groups opens new doors to them and is often a real michshol.
For these two reasons, GYE feels strongly that religious SA members should not be in mixed SA groups.
After sending this article in a chizuk e-mail, GYE got a lot of feedback, some from experienced SA members, and we see now that it is not as clear cut as we made it above.
Each woman really needs to decide on her own, with advice from her therapist. Each case is different, and some groups are safer/healthier than others. It also depends on how far the addiction has gone and how ready the person is for real change (is life really unmanageable? Are they ready to go to ANY lengths to get sober?). Many things need to be taken into consideration before deciding whether or not a woman should join a live group. Also, going with another women friend makes it a lot safer.
Dov, who has almost 20 years of sobriety in SA live groups, responded to our article as follows:
In SA we all know that the White Book states clearly that obviously, men work with men and women with women. Everyone in the room knows they can't be trusted to be alone with female sexaholics, of all people. It's called basic humility. Yes, there are gonna be some non-sober guys who are still ill in the meetings...but the women who go there need to be aware of that, unless they are completely nuts. Also, women could come there for sex - true...but that actually happens far more frequently in AA meetings than it does in SA meetings. In AA, messing around with other members is actually referred to pejoratively as '13th stepping' someone. But I believe 13th stepping people is far less frequent in SA than it is in AA or NA, and it's rather obvious that it is so. Because that's what we are there for! We are admitting we are there for sex problems, so its more out in the open - like everybody knows that robberies are more frequent in the night than in the day, and even diminished further at night by putting lights around your home at night.
I know that normal people (and especially frum normals who want to look even more 'normal' than normal) assume the opposite is true. Any normal Rov who knows nothing about addiction at all will naturally assume the party line. That's what I mean by your GYE position being 'politically correct'. But that's the same shock they have when they see that SA meetings have men with women, at all. The frum world always assumes that separation is the first line of defense against sexual misconduct...but it's not so. Here we are, as frum as you could be - and masturbating to nudes online anyhow. When there is a will there is a way. And the assumption that there is a kal vachomer that men will act out with women if they are there, is kinda neanderthal, really.
I do not consider myself naive. But sexaholics in recovery are known entities who (unlike the guy sitting next to you and me in shul) admit they are perverts in recovery. So I actually trust them more than I trust the average (even frum) guy who - by just looking the way he is - is expecting us all to trust that he really is normal. Of course, normal people tend to deny this principle because admitting it would actually put they themselves into some (actually quite reasonable) degree of suspicion! And they find that demeaning and are afraid of it.
So should a frum woman be encouraged to go to regular SA meetings? I think GYE should have no position on it except to say that a female sexaholic is likely to feel very uncomfortable there and therefore must make that decision herself or with her therapist and seek out other female sexaholics because she will need a sponsor and it cannot possibly be a male. A mixed-gender sponsorship just won't work, and it will send a poor message to other sexaholics. To me, it's a practical matter, that's all. Like you wisely pointed out, there are female meetings and phone groups.
As far as a male sexaholic having women in his meeting, let me tell you women are very rare. In all my years I’ve only met five. One who was clearly not sober - she disappeared after looking for attention a few times (but given none by us, just respect), and about four who were sober. And it quickly becomes clear that a sober sexaholic female is about as sexually exciting as a kick in the groin... not very. And the ones who come looking for sex, are very rare, I am sure. Because everybody knows that sex is being dissected right there on the center of the floor! It just can't be snuck by, cuz everyone's radar is on high gain.
Here is what GYE wrote to a woman who was acting out live but was reluctant to join a live meeting:
You need to decide if you're life is really unmanageable.
If it is, you need to be ready to go to any lengths to get sober.
That means even going to 90 meetings in 90 days, as they suggest.
(Try to walk to a meeting on Shabbos too!)
Someone who has cancer can't be concerned about their "lifestyle".
This is Pikuach Nefesh. Without sobriety, we have NOTHING. No life, no marriage, no Yiddishkeit.
We need to put sobriety before EVERYTHING - even Yiddishkeit. Because without it, we have no Yiddishkeit.
You say it clashes with your frum lifestyle? An addict is doing things that are not frum! Their frumkeit is corrupted.
I have spoken to so many people, they had to relapse so many times until they finally admitted utter defeat.
I hope that doesn't happen to you.
Perhaps you should reconsider joining your friend in a live meeting.
Just be vigilant and set boundaries. Don't take numbers from men, don't take rides home with men.
If you're ready to do whatever it takes, jump in and Hashem will be with you!