OUTSIDE SPEAKERS – Should S.L.A.A. Meetings Allow Speakers from Other Fellowships?

The comments below were given by various members of the Conference Steps, Traditions, and Concepts Committee and do not represent a group conscience of the entire committee. The opinions expressed here are solely that of the person giving them. Take what you like and leave the rest.

The Question:

Someone in my group will shortly be celebrating her one year of sobriety in SLAA.  She came to our business meeting and told us that she’s asked someone from SAA to speak. I said I didn’t agree with that, that it should be someone from SLAA since they’ll be talking about working another program, not SLAA.  I think it violates tradition three: “Any two or more persons gathered together for mutual aid in recovering from sex and love addiction may call themselves an SLAA group, provided that as a group they have no other affiliation.” To me this is the group affiliating with an outside organization.  I just think SLAA should have SLAA speakers and SAA should have SAA speakers in order to not confuse people.  I’m curious, has this issue been addressed by FWS?


Thank you for the question. The issues of interaction with other S Fellowships come up often, and for me are quite serious.

The Traditions — which are guidelines, not rules or laws and thus cannot technically be ‘violated’ — are used, unfortunately, to justify one side or another of this argument rather than to guide our desire to come to mutual agreement and understanding. We talk about humility, open mindedness, and willingness, but on some issues it’s easy to dig in our heels.

Recently someone repeated this story: I dreamt that God (or Buddha or Jesus or Mohammed or name your reverent Higher Power) was outside my house with a Megaphone shouting, so the whole neighborhood could hear, “come out with your heart opened.” It’s good advice.

The point of the Traditions is to keep us unified, to protect our common welfare. For example, in AA’s three legacies — Recovery, Unity, and Service — the Traditions are for Unity. Just as the Steps work to keep us individually sober, and the Concepts guide our service structure, the Traditions are designed to protect our common welfare as a Fellowship. We cannot recover alone, but as we help each other in the wider Fellowship we can and do recover.

I am aware of five S organizations: Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA), Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA), Sexual Recovery Anonymous (SRA), and Sexaholics Anonymous (SA). All five of these groups use the 12 Steps and the 12 Traditions. Each has a different culture, but all have the same foundation. One in particular is very exclusive and close-minded. Despite the existence of five separate S organizations, there is only one disease. There is really only one Fellowship. There are many many different ways that we act out or act in, but fundamentally we all have a disease of intimacy. In whatever way our disease presents itself, we all — members of all five organizations — are afraid of emotionally being too close to people and afraid of being alone. And yet we are driven by our basic instinct for sex and partnership. We are unable to establish healthy relationships, and instead we confuse sex and/or romantic intrigue or isolation with intimacy. We have a common disease.

All five of these 12-Step, 12-Tradition, S organizations, including our own S.L.A.A., are operating contrary to Tradition 1, and, on this issue, the rest of the Traditions as well.  Rather than being unified, we are dispersed. AA’s long version of Tradition 3 starts out by saying “Our membership ought to include all who suffer….” S.L.A.A. ought to have this same attitude. We will and do reach out to all who suffer with our disease, but when it comes to the “other” S groups, we tend to look for the differences rather than the similarities. Instead of seeing our brothers and sisters as addicts just like us, we point to their differences. Why not be inclusive, and we normally are, but with other S groups we hurriedly quote Tradition 3’s admonishment about independence from “other affiliations.” (Tradition 3 is extremely important for us when it comes to non-S organizations. There is no doubt about that, but it does not apply to those who have the same disease we do.)

Five organizations with five separate national offices, five separate staffs, duplicate committees, separate web sites, conferences, workshops, publications are not as efficient as a single service organization.  Five organizations cannot reach as many suffering addicts as one unified organization. The numbers of people in recovery from sex and/or love addiction is miniscule compared to the number who are suffering from our disease. I use the word ‘organization’ specifically to describe the service structures. Our Fellowship is not the organization in the traditional sense, but a society, a community, of human beings who suffer from the same disease.

All of the five S groups rely on the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. All consider themselves exemplary practitioners of the Steps and Traditions. But, once the groups came into existence, organizational ego took over. Each of the International offices will be quick to point out the differences between the groups and will be quick to protect their existence. There certainly are distinctions, some of them quite dramatic. But, the similarities exist in the individual addicts no matter what group they consider their home group. In reaching out, keeping an open mind, is where we too often fail.

By the way Wikipedia has interesting, if not fully accurate, histories of all five S groups. SLAA was founded in December 1976, in Boston. It is the oldest of the groups. SAA came along in 1978 in Minneapolis and SA was founded in 1979 in Los Angeles. SCA and SRA followed the decade after, splitting off from SA over issues around the Traditions and SA’s narrow-minded definition of sobriety.

I have a very rigid attitude when it comes to outside speakers, or affiliation with outside groups. That is, I strongly object to having speakers who are therapists, or clergy, who are talking about their recipe for recovery. We need to be extremely cautious about medical, professional, social or religious organizations and/or speakers. We need to properly identify outside issues and avoid being drawn into controversy around those issues. But when it comes to sex and/or love addicts, I submit we must always be open to carrying the message of recovery. And we must be open when any addict in recovery carries the message to us, even if they are affiliated with another S group.

And, we must have open discussion regarding all ‘inside’ issues. If the topic bears on recovery, on the 12 Steps, 12 Traditions, or 12 Concepts, then we should have no fear. We can listen to all opinions. We can disagree with each other. We do not have to hurry. As long as we keep talking we will end up with a Group Conscience as an expression of our Higher Power’s will for us.

It’s been pointed out to me that the five existing S groups are fully entrenched today. The likelihood of any merger or even of any cooperation is extremely unlikely. The memberships of each group are ready to fight for the correctness of their group’s culture and format. That is the reality. It is unfortunate, but true. Still, as long as I have the opportunity to propose unity as described in the Traditions, and especially Tradition 1, I will continue to do it. As long as I have the opportunity to take actions that are inclusive to all S addicts, I will continue to do so.

From a practical standpoint, I hope you have attended the anniversary meeting and listened to the SAA speaker. Look for the similarities, note the differences, approach it with an open heart and an open mind. No harm will come to your recovery program and it is possible you may hear something positive. Also, deeper discussion of the Traditions is always a good thing. Hopefully your business meeting can take a deep dive into a Traditions discussion. Congratulations to the member of your group with one year. Marking our progress is a great thing for everyone in the group and, indeed, in the wider Fellowship.

Tradition Four provides some direction on this issue.   Each group is autonomous, and may make the decision to have a non SLAA speaker if they wish as long as it does not affect SLAA as a whole.   While I would not personally want an outside speaker due to the confusion and conflict it could cause in the meeting, it seems unlikely that having an SAA speaker at an SLAA meeting would affect the program as a whole.   For a little comparison, Al-Anon often has AA speakers at Al-Anon events to better understand the addiction.  When OA was in the beginning years, AA speakers were also often invited to give their experience, strength and hope at meetings and events because both are chemical addictions and the AA’s had a better understanding of working the steps.   Both programs have used outside speakers with the sole purpose of boosting the recovery of its’ own members.   Is the meeting in question taking the action for that reason?

Tradition Five also provides direction.   Our purpose is to help the Sex and Love Addict that still suffers.   I mentioned in my comments for Tradition Four that I would not personally support having an outside speaker.   That is because I do not believe that an outside speaker would necessarily be helping the sex and love addict that is suffering.   Because SAA is for sex addicts, that program does not address the love addiction part of our program.   The SAA speaker would be talking about working a different program with a different goal.    That is why I believe having an outside speaker could cause confusion and conflict.   However, if the area where the meeting is located does not have many SLAA meetings, there might not be a lot of options.  So, if the purpose is to try and help members while using limited resources, having the outside speaker might be beneficial.   To repeat my question at the end of Tradition Four:  Is the meeting taking the action for that reason?

First let me say that I am an active member of SAA, and consider it an important part of my recovery. In my experience the difference is the abstinence focus in SAA is from compulsive sexual activity while SLAA is from sex and love addiction. Lead shares in SAA may tend to have a bit more of the sex-a-log quality, while in SLAA we avoid graphic description of acting-out behavior. It is important that any outside speaker be informed of the group norms and tailor their lead to comply with them. However, it may be appropriate to mention outside tools and organizations (therapy, workshops, treatment centers, medication) when sharing, as long as they make clear these are tools that helped them as an individual in addition to working the steps.

I do not know where you are located, at a retreat I met someone who lived in a state that only had very few “S” meetings and the majority were SAA. In that case if you want to find a speaker with experience strength and hope, it may be beneficial to go to other fellowships, not just “S” programs but also other 12 step programs. While the focus when working the steps may differ in our program than from other fellowships, the steps when worked do bring a spiritual awakening.

I also go to a workshop that is open to all 12 step fellowships, when I listen for similarities instead of differences, I hear the same types of childhood trauma, resentments and character defects. From that I came to understand that while my addiction was to people rather than a substance, the roots of the addiction are similar.

Tradition 4 says that each group is autonomous, in the case you brought forward it affected one group, and was brought up at a business meeting to get a group vote. It does not affect SLAA as a whole.

As for Tradition 3, to me the key part of the tradition is “as a group they have no other affiliation”, if as a group you had another affiliation it would violate the tradition. If a meeting had 2-3 people that also identified as AA members it wouldn’t violate this tradition as long as the focus of the meeting is Sex and Love Addiction and not Alcoholism.


What do you think?
The CSTCC is a group of volunteers, some of whom were ABM delegates, and others who volunteered out of interest. We do not represent a group conscience of S.L.A.A., but are committed to bringing thoughtful discussion and study of 12 Step Fellowship literature and experience to the questions that are brought to us. We offer this summary as the results of our discussions. We present the major points of concern in the hopes that wider discussion in the Fellowship will help us evolve our customs and practice of the S.L.A.A. program of recovery to better represent the loving guidance of a Higher Power. Always, we affirm the autonomy of each group and the need for each individual to follow her/his own conscience. No decision of this group, or any other, is ever forced upon another, even when we believe a practice is clearly in conflict with the Steps, Traditions, or Concepts.