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
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
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
This would fulfill--not destroy--the
spirit and principles of Alcoholics Anonymous.