[From Essay, June 2011]
SA is not a fellowship of only celibate people! Even though I know many married members (as well as single members) who are celibate, our sobriety definition allows sex within marriage. In fact, many married members of our fellowship actually have sex in marriage and stay sober! Yet for some reason I don’t often hear the topic of “healthy sexuality in marriage” mentioned in the SA meetings I attend.
Why is it so difficult to speak about sex in marriage at meetings? Is it a feeling of disloyalty to our spouses? Do we still carry shame about sex in general? Do we think it is unfair to the single members? I personally feel that this topic is important to speak about and to bring into the light.
When I was active in my disease, I was sexually demanding with my wife. When I had 11 months of sobriety, I became frightened that I could lose my sobriety if I did not keep getting progressive victory over lust. This was back in early 1985, and there was no one I knew in SA at the time who had not relapsed during his or her first or second year of sobriety.
I thought, “Everyone I know has relapsed. Does that mean I have to also?” I had been such a low-bottom sex drunk that I knew, in my heart, that a relapse for me would be my end. What was I to do?
I realized that I needed to do the one thing I did not want to do: to ask my wife for a period of sexual abstinence. I was sure my wife would be aghast at such a suggestion.
I sheepishly asked her if she would mind if we went on a short abstinent period. I was shocked by her immediate response. With a look of disgust on her face she said, “Certainly, it’s all right. I have had enough sex with you to last me a lifetime!”
Most normal people would have understood what those words meant. The drunk that I was did not grasp the depth of those words until six weeks later when I said to her that I was now ready to end our abstinent period. To my great surprise she said, “I am not ready to end it.” I immediately got angry at her. I indignantly called my sponsor. I said to him “Can you imagine that? I have done this great recovery deed of abstinence for six weeks, and my wife has shown me no appreciation. She had the audacity to say she is not ready to end the abstinence.” He said, “You are an addict. How do you know when to end abstinence? Let God decide the length of time by talking through your wife.”
It wasn’t until 21 months later that God led my wife to say she was ready to end the abstinence. During that 21-month period, a great paradox was revealed to me about myself: the less sex I had with my wife, the more I felt like a man! I had always thought that sex with my wife was what made me a man. My inner self was finally revealed to me. I discovered that I could feel loved by my wife without sex.
In sobriety, our marriage has been a 27-year journey toward healthier sexual intimacy. Eleven months after the first abstinence, we began a prolonged second period of abstinence. After that we had a period of having sexual intimacy only when my spouse requested it. Then for years we took turns requesting sexual intimacy. We got to the point where we each felt free to request or to reject it.
Then some years ago a member at an SA meeting mentioned that he and his wife had a set date when they were sexually intimate.
When I heard this I thought he was crazy. My mind said that idea would negate spontaneity in our marriage. However, with this, as with so much else in my recovery, I had to face my closed-mindedness. At present we practice this approach in our marriage and it has worked well.
As it turns out, spontaneity leaves the door open for my lust. It permits me to wonder whether this is the day we will be sexually intimate. Now that I know the day, it becomes clear to me that thoughts of sex on any other day are merely part of my sexual addiction trying to pop back in. This also permits my wife to know that when I am nice to her on the days that are not our “special day,” there is no ulterior motive behind
my behavior. We are now at a point in our marriage where we are both comfortable with the frequency and style of our sexual intimacy.
Sex in my marriage is not the core of my problem. When lust sneaks in, that is the problem. We are powerless over lust—and lust has the potential to sneak into our marital sexual intimacy as it did in other areas of our lives. So, we need to deal with how to avoid lust creeping into the marital relationship.
If sex is the primary channel of intimacy in my marriage, then lust will more likely invade my relationship. How can I prevent this? I often ask myself the following questions to help prevent such an invasion:
• Am I working on improving other aspects of intimacy in our marriage?
• Am I having a regular date night with my spouse without sex being the payoff for the evening?
• Am I positively affirming my spouse throughout the week?
• Am I inwardly appreciating my wife and being grateful for our relationship?
• Am I being honest with my wife so that I am not saying yes when I really mean no? Is the yes merely a dishonest response based on fear that if I say no my spouse will not have sex with me later in the day?
• Are we having intimate conversations about sex in our marriage?
• Are compromises being reached concerning frequency of sexual intimacy?
• Am I asking my wife what she likes sexually and actually hearing what she says?
• Is there romance in our relationship?
• Is my spouse my best friend? If not, why not?
• Are we having fun? I believe that if we don’t have fun in our relationship, lust will have a better chance of sneaking into the sexual aspect of our intimacy.
Many of us have been negatively affected by our addiction. We know a lot about sex with self, pornography, and sex without intimacy. We have become love cripples. But many of us know very little about romance and intimacy with our spouses. Learning about intimacy in marriage has been a very important aspect of my recovery. As it says in our Sobriety Definition, Our whole concept of sex begins to change. Sex finds a simple and natural place it could never have before and becomes merely one of the things that flows from true union in committed marriage. And even here, we’ve discovered that sex is optional. (SA 193)
—Harvey A., Nashville, TN