Tradition Four

Each group is autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or Sexaholics Anonymous as a whole.

Any two or more people who want to stop lusting and find SA sobriety, may meet and decide to form a group. We may call ourselves an SA group provided that we are gathered together for recovery from lust and that as a group we have no other affiliation. These minimal prerequisites would seem to allow our group almost unlimited license. How could there be any consistency among meetings in different areas?

This doesn’t turn out to be a problem because sexaholics answer to a higher authority––we must seek and follow God’s will or jeopardize our sobriety. Just as important, if we stray from the proven principles of SA, the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, we risk not only our sobriety but also serious, perhaps fatal consequences. So there are real constraints. On the other hand, the freedom allowed by group autonomy allows diversity that may from time to time identify ideas and methods to improve our program. Tradition Four limits this exceptional liberty only by advising against actions that affect other groups or SA as a whole.

The local group is the basic unit of SA structure. Being autonomous, it functions as an independent and self-governing body. This means the power of SA lies at the broadest and most fundamental level of the fellowship, the group. Other levels of the organization can serve the group but not govern it. If a directive were sent to the group from another level of SA, it might be met by a simple, “No thanks.” Thus, the principle of self-governing groups supports Tradition Two, which says SA leaders do not govern.

The group does not exist independently, however. Each group is connected to other groups near and far and is a part of the entire body of SA, a worldwide fellowship. Each member and each group is responsible for the health of the whole organization. As a part of responsible decision-making, we take the rest of SA into account.

Indeed, Tradition Four is simplicity itself: the ones who are affected are in charge. If only our group is affected, then we have sole authority to act. But if our decision affects another group, then that group also shares responsibility and authority. We find balance between freedom and responsibility.

How does a group determine whether or not a decision might affect other groups or the larger organization? Applying the Traditions with provides direction. They lead us to be always mindful of our common welfare, to rely on the guidance of God as the ultimate authority, and to keep the focus on carrying the message of SA recovery. They warn us to stay separate from outside enterprises, outside funding, and outside issues. They also warn against mixing our spiritual program with health professions or building unnecessary organizational complexity. They counsel us to practice humility. If we examine our actions in light of these Traditions, we will be unlikely to intrude on others.

Guided by the Traditions, then, groups avoid, for example, changing the sobriety definition, using non SA-approved literature, being openly critical of other groups or of SA as whole, and authorizing a member to speak publicly as a representative of SA.   Groups do not issue public statements on outside issues and do not offer endorsement, actual or implied, of any religious practice, outside therapy, or treatment program. Such an abuse of autonomy would pose a danger to the unity of SA.

In this spirit of supporting individual freedom, each group has the authority and responsibility to establish how it will carry the SA message. The group is free to choose for itself when, where, and how often to meet; the format and readings to be used; group officers and how to choose them; the sobriety requirement, if any, to hold service positions within the group; how to let the public know the group exists; how to manage the group finances; whether to announce guidelines for dress; how to be available to the wider community, and a wide range of such issues. Indeed, although the group functions within the context of all other SA groups, no other part of the organization will make these decisions for us. We do it ourselves. A local SA member or local group does not need the permission of any distant authority before extending a helping hand.

Tradition Four invites us to participate in the freedom promised to recovering addicts while providing an ethical and spiritual context for our decisions. It helps keep the SA program familiar and consistent. It means that you and I can travel from one meeting to another without losing our connection with SA recovery.

On a Personal Note

The extension of Tradition Four to our other relationships is obvious and particularly pertinent to us as addicts, whose problem is based in self-centeredness. Each of us can and should speak for ourselves in matters that affect only us. However, as we make plans that may affect others, it is appropriate that we consult them. We are reminded to take care of our own selves and not expect others to do it for us. We are guided to practice our own independence as well as interdependence with those around us.  We are led to be humble and right-sized.

As active sexaholics we were not self-governing; we were controlled instead by our obsessive desires. We were often unaware of or insensitive to the effects that our actions might have had on others. In our recovery, Tradition Four guides us to govern ourselves. How does that look in our personal lives? Ideally, we each make reasonable decisions about issues affecting us over which we have authority and do not make decisions where we don’t have authority. We each adapt as best we can to issues beyond our control or work through available channels to effect change in them. We do not independently make decisions for others or about issues that affect others. As individuals, this emphasis on autonomy encourages each of us to participate in group decision making because we have our own perspective to offer. We each have the responsibility to contribute our own point of view to the group as well as to respect the rights and opinions of others.

Members of SA Share


My sponsor told me that the Steps and Traditions are not separate but instead interact with each other. Sure enough, as I studied Tradition Four, one of the interactions came to light; something sounded familiar. Eventually I realized that I was hearing an echo of Step Nine.

“ . . . except in matters affecting other groups or SA as a whole.” (Tradition Four)

“ . . . except when to do so would injure them or others.” (Step Nine)

In both situations I am guided in action and limited only when I might have an effect on others. Both of these teach me to recognize boundaries. I need this because my sexaholism is a disease of violating boundaries, whether by not noticing them or by willfully ignoring them. Tradition Four asks me to recognize and respect what is beyond my own sphere of influence.


One of our local groups wanted to publish a meeting list for all the groups in the area as a way of carrying the message. Some of the other groups objected because they were concerned about the anonymity of their members.  Eventually, the issue was brought to our fledgling intergroup, which by finding the group conscience, came up with a possible solution. They sent the idea back to the groups for their consideration and ultimately it was approved. Today, our intergroup publishes a meeting list for all the groups, both in print and on the Internet, which preserves anonymity while at the same time gets out the word about the fellowship.


At first, the business meetings of my group seemed chaotic. I thought some larger, wiser organization should take charge. Allowing a group of addicts to be self-governing seemed crazy.  After all, I had almost died from self-government before I found SA.

At some point I remembered that the governor on a car is a control that keeps it from going too fast. I realized that I had not really been self-governing before. I had been out of control – the pedal to the floor. Driven by lust, my life had been a one-person anarchy – a complete lack of self-government.

That hadn’t kept me from trying to govern others. I had tried to feed my dependency by rescuing, caretaking, manipulating and using my anger to control others. In contrast, Tradition Four directs me to take care of myself, yet to be aware of where my actions might affect others; in the latter case, I can consult them, that they also may have the opportunity to be self-governing.

I am to mind my own business in two senses. That is, I actively tend to my own business and I also stay out of yours.

Recommended Reading

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

Tradition Four 146-49

Long Form 189

Questions to Consider

  1. Do I take part in my group’s business decisions? Do I share my experience? Do I listen to others?

  2. How does my group consider the effect we might have on other groups?

  3. How can I be a responsible part of my group? How can my group be a responsible part of the whole fellowship?

  4. When I attend other groups, do the differences irritate me or do I enjoy them and learn from them?

  5. What are the principles this Tradition leads me to practice?

  6. How does this Tradition benefit the sexaholic who still suffers?

  7. How does this Tradition promote unity?

  8. How does this Tradition apply to my SA group?

  9. How do these questions and this Tradition apply to the other groups I am a part of, such as at home and at work?