Thursday, September 25, 2008

In defense of anti-wanking groups

About a month ago the brilliant and hilarious Stephy wrote a post entitled Not Masturbating on her insightful and astoundingly funny blog Stuff Christian Cultures Like. (There, not one but *two* links for you Stephanie!). She says:

Support groups are formed for the whackmasters to congregate and discuss how hard it is to keep their hands off their junk

I think Stephy has a point. Christians tend to get ... a bit obsessed with this whole thing.

Of course it's not just Christians. There are at least 3 big sexual addiction recovery organizations (SA, SAA, SLAA). There are guys meeting in rooms across Western World today, and tomorrow, and every day this week, reading the twelve steps aloud and sharing how sexual addiction has destroyed their lives, and then helping each other remain sexually sober, providing accountability, honesty, and support.

It's fairly easy to mock, on the one hand.

It leads one to ask questions about focusing one one particular "sin" to the exclusion of other "sins". And I'm using the term "sin" here in an entirely secular sense. I'm talking about relational harm, about ... life vs. death, about hope and glory vs. despair and destruction and horror.

I think people who really understand and appreciate the 12 steps, and *maybe* people who really understand and appreciate the way of Jesus, are aware that "sobriety", or "being in God's will", or whatever the hell you want to call it, go way beyond wanking, or not wanking, or (insert your "sin" of choice here).

Is it possible that 12 steps groups, or church groups, or churches, or what have you, are ultimately accomplishing more good than harm? This seems like a reasonable question. Often the answer is probably no.

But again, I think Stephanie has a point. While sex addicts are focusing on trying to improve or repair their relationships which have often been destroyed by their masturbation, use of pornography, voyeurism, exhibitionism, having sex with other people without their spouses knowing about it, sexual abuse, etc. etc., it is distinctly possible that they are missing the perhaps much larger sins of consuming inordinately large amount of food, gasoline, textiles, etc. etc. while a billion people go without fresh water and live on less than a dollar a day, or 30,000 children starve to death today, or their government spends another $600 billion on it's military this year, leading directly or indirectly to the death or impoverishment of millions of people.

On the other hand, maybe anti-wanking groups are actually helping people grow as human beings to the point where they can appreciate these larger issues. Just a thought.


Seren said...

I like 12 step groups. The one i was in for depression was ++ helpful. I've got a question, though. Alcoholics anonymous, the first and most famous 12-step group, recommends abstinence - ie no alcohol ever, ever again. It's a bit unpopular with drug and alcohol health care workers at the moment - harm minimisation is the catch phrase of the day. (a really good rehab place will, of course, have different strokes for different folks, but anyway...)
Do you know if there are similar differences in sex/masturbation addicts' support groups? I mean, do some people think /stopping/ any sort of sexual activity (or some sorts of sexual activity eg masturbating) completely is the way to go, or is harm minimisation more common?

Joe said...

I was thinking something similar the other day - does our obsession with sex cause more problems than it solves, particularly with reference to the purity ring movement.

Benjamin Ady said...


I also like 12 step groups. The one I was in was ++helpful as well.

Harm reduction, which is what we call harm minimisation here in the states, doesn't tend to go over super well in 12 step groups in general, I don't think. They tend to be all about abstinence.

Sex addiction 12 step groups, of course, run into a problem here. They have differing standards. Sexaholics anonymous has a definition of sobriety which includes no sex outside of marriage, including no sex with self (i.e. masturbation)

But of course sex within marriage is still recommended =).

I know SLA has a much looser definition of sobriety. And I don't know anything about SAA's definition.

The sad statistic among substance addicts (and this ultimately includes sex addicts, who are addicted to the ... brain produced versions of drugs) is that only 30% of those who are actually addicted every experience long term recovery. This is true across all sorts of treatments, including harm reduction. At least that's what I've heard.

Liz said...

does everything have to come back to feeling guilty just for being alive??? I grew up with so much of this
"you're blessed, so feel guilty about every single breath you take". And my family wasn't Christian. They were leftist (very leftist) social activists. I couldn't do the slightest thing without being paralyzed by guilt about what everyone else didn't have. You live frugally, within your means and do your best. Then you shut down the guilt. I have had plenty of pain in my life and ironically, growing up with this attitude encouraged me to hate on anyone who had something "I" didn't.(such as a functional family that didn't eat, sleep and breathe guilt) Because those who have "owe" those who do not. I might further add that growing up with this attitude also opened me up to allowing all kinds of poor lowlives to mooch off of my kindness And also,because I had been brought up to believe that poor people were MY fault simply because I existed. So you know, for me, getting healthy meant it was a long long time before I could do anything but give the finger to anyone with a hand sticking out for my hard earned do-re-mi. All that guilt was somewhat counterproductive in that respect. Of course, now I am learning that there is a balance. But its been a long process. And its still very very hard for me to give anything to anyone that I don't feel deserves it.

stephy said...

Ben, I believe we call it harm minimiZation here in the states. :)

Martin said...

Good posts.

Benjamin Ady said...


do you like being called "stephy"? Cause I think of you as "Stephanie", but I'm willing to change.

yes, as you point out we use the "z" where the Brits and Aussies use the "s"

But I still think we call the thing we are talking about "harm reduction" rather than "harm minimisation" *or* "harm minimization". in fact, all of the above redirect to "harm reduction" on Wikipedia, which is arguably overwhelmed by Americans.

I mean to say I learned about "harm reduction" hanging out at the lab of one of the big names in the field, one Alan Marlatt at UW. Never heard "harm minimisation" until Seren used it. Sort of instantly knew what she meant, though.

Of course you work in the medical industry, so I'm curious--have you heard "harm minimization"? Is it interchangeable with "harm reduction"? Which gets used more here in the U.S.?

stephy said...

Never heard the phrase used in my line of work.