Tradition Three

The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop lusting and become sexually sober.

When we first learned of Sexaholics Anonymous, we wondered if we really could belong there. We had thought unspeakable thoughts and done unmentionable things. Whom could we dare to trust with the details of our lives and the bitter hopelessness to which we had come? Who could bear to listen without rejecting us? Who would willingly associate with us? What would they demand of us, require us to believe, or exact from us when we sought entry?

When we walked in the door, we found members who would gladly sit down with us and trust us with their stories. They invited us to tell what brought us to SA. They did not pamper us, but neither did they recoil from what we had to share. No one told us we were either too bad or not yet bad enough for membership. No one told us that we had to believe anything, do anything, or pay anything for a chance at hope and a new life.

SA has no sergeant-at-arms to control who may attend regular SA meetings. It requires only that we desire to stop lusting and become sexually sober. No one has the authority to judge the honesty or sincerity of our desire, to test our knowledge of the SA program, or to pronounce on the likelihood of our success. The responsibility for deciding who meets this requirement belongs to the individual, not the organization. Our members qualify themselves. At the same time we do not call each other sober unless we are practicing sobriety. This is the meaning of the Third Tradition.

Our membership spans many different religious and spiritual backgrounds, including agnostics and atheists. Regardless of a person’s sexual history or behaviors, other addictions or emotional disorders, financial condition, cultural background, opinions on issues of politics, religion, philosophy, economics, or environment, our doors are open to all who want SA recovery. We dare not refuse those who need what we have, lest we condemn them. God sends us people in need of our help, and as an issue of faith, we carry the SA message to all who want it. Indeed, we must in order to keep it for ourselves. The simplicity of our membership requirement is one of the foundations of SA unity.

SA has a specific definition of sexual sobriety: no sex with self or anyone other than one’s spouse in a marriage between a man and a woman. Some newcomers to SA know only that they want the pain to stop. In their misery they may have little, if any, understanding of sexual sobriety, but they have no doubt that they need recovery. If they say they are members, then they are members. One day at a time, as they attend SA meetings and undertake a period of abstinence, some of them gradually come to see that they do want what SA has to offer. Others find, some even after a period of sobriety, that the SA program is not for them. Newcomers who are open, honest, and willing will encounter limitless opportunities for spiritual growth, and will discover with God’s help whether or not they belong.

Welcoming newcomers to SA, we listen for the desire hidden beneath their early reactions to the program as we allow them the opportunity to come around to our point of view. One or two who doubt, when first hearing about our sobriety definition, do not threaten the unity of our group or our connection with the God of our understanding. At the same time, this Tradition makes clear what the members of SA desire and what kind of experience, strength, and hope we have to offer the newcomer.

Before mentioning sobriety, Tradition Three names the “desire to stop lusting.” It turns out this desire is not only a requirement for membership, but also a requirement for real sexual sobriety. Some of us had to learn about this the hard way, spending years counting up days of technical sobriety without truly giving up lust. Eventually we crashed. Sure, we resisted masturbation and illicit sex for a time, but we didn’t give up lust. We fed our lust by drinking it in with our eyes, by dwelling on old memories, or by building fantasies in our minds. Often our lusting was not fully conscious. We called ourselves sober.

Step One clearly identifies lust as our problem, and our experience tells us that when we are free of lust, we are sober. To stop lusting and become sexually sober may be a lengthy process, but one becomes a member merely by expressing the desire to move in this direction.

On A Personal Note

At work, at home, and in all of our affiliations beyond SA, Tradition Three teaches that a fundamental requirement for membership is a desire to be a healthy part of that group. In the past we may have found ourselves in situations where we regretted our commitment or participation. Understanding and applying the Third Tradition can help us avoid becoming part of an organization unless we genuinely want to. From time to time we may complain about our jobs, marriages, or community responsibilities, seeing them as a burden. Here we are reminded to consider whether or not we sincerely want to be a member. If indeed we do have the desire, we need to act as if we do.

With an honest desire to participate, we can share our message of love and service with those who desire it. We don’t force ourselves on others and we don’t require or expect perfection of them.

Members of SA Share


“I’m sober today!” I enjoyed saying that at meetings and to other members over the phone. I felt like every day that I didn’t act out was money in the bank. I was on my way to a better life. I began to look forward to the time when I could be an old timer and tell others how the program worked.

However I wasn’t free from lust, far from it. My eyes were usually roving, looking for someone to fasten onto. Sometimes I played back old episodes or old relationships in my head; sometimes I revised and “improved” the memories. I wasn’t acting out, but I was pursuing lust.

When I lost my sobriety, I didn’t know what hit me at first. One minute I was sober and the next minute my relapse ran me over like a freight train. It took me some time to get clear about it. My sponsor and I agreed that I should start out fresh with a new sponsor. My new sponsor took me through some very thoughtful and prayerful First Step work. I began to see that, while I had quit acting out for a time, I had never surrendered lust. I tried to control and enjoy it.

I no longer entertain lust like I used to. When it comes knocking on my door, I acknowledge my powerlessness to myself and ask God to give me the willingness to surrender. I am not completely free from lust, but I have a desire to continue to surrender it as it comes and I keep bringing it to the light. My sobriety feels deeper and richer. I believe I’m growing in recovery.

“Am I sober today?” The more important question for me is, “Do I desire to stop lusting today?”


When I first came to SA, I knew that I needed to stop acting out. I had no idea what lust meant or how it related to my problem. Since part of my acting out was preying on vulnerable women, I was afraid that once my secret became known, the women in the meetings would feel unsafe, and that I would be told I could not continue attending meetings. The same distortion of reality that brought me to my bottom, was telling me that I would not be permitted to recover.

Fortunately, the door to the SA group where I got sober was open to all who were looking for a solution to their destructive sexual thoughts and actions. As I continued attending meetings, the fog gradually lifted, and I began to understand that the SA solution was the one for me––that I was indeed a sexaholic, as described in the literature, and that I had no option but to stop.

When I shared my First Step with my home group, I received encouragement, acceptance, and a sense of belonging. I was home. Since then, I have learned that my fantasies and behaviors were not unique. Today I am grateful to know that I am a garden-variety sexaholic.


Was I a sexaholic? Was I willing to stop lusting, to surrender my sexually-destructive thinking as well as my acting-out behavior? When I attended my first SA newcomer meeting, these were really the only questions I had to answer for myself.

I found it hard to identify with the acting out patterns of members who shared, except for their masturbation. Then I began to see my powerlessness over lust and the progressive and relentless nature of my addiction to this "drug." I saw that the forms our acting out took were less important as a basis for fellowship than our desire to stop lusting and become sexually sober.

Once I connected with the concept of lust, I saw SA and myself in a completely different light. I had found a group whose members' recognized that we acted under the influence of a common drug:  lust. I wanted to stop; I met the requirement for membership.


I came to SA horribly unique and uniquely horrible—I was sure that no one could understand or forgive my deviant, criminal sexual behaviors. In my desperation, I sought help; but my tendency to compare my insides to the outsides of others persisted.

The unconditional love of other members and their honesty and vulnerability in the meeting rooms invited me to stop comparing and start identifying. When I focused on what was different about others, my sense of separation increased. But as I yearned for acceptance and a sense of belonging I had never known, I gradually began to see myself in others. The more I focused on what I had in common with other SA members, the more I felt I belonged.

Today I seek every opportunity to identify, because seeing myself in others repeatedly saves me. Even in a “drunk” meeting where members predominantly share from the problem rather than the solution, I can find what I need for another twenty-four hours of sobriety by focusing on a stark reminder of where I would surely be, but for the grace of God and SA. When I feel this sense of kinship with suffering sexaholics, I can invite others into the solution with the same tolerance, love, and acceptance as was shown to me.


For me, getting and staying sober isn’t a simple little two-step: one, surrender lust; two, get sober. Stopping lusting includes surrendering lust-based fantasy and relationships, and my right to sexual stimulation in any form. I try to surrender the right to ask that the world in which I live be different from the world God is providing me.

This surrender takes practice, and I practice every day. My intention is to surrender the first lust thought because I have found that lust becomes progressively more difficult to surrender as I entertain it. In the beginning, I worked and prayed to surrender lust day by day, and that nurtured the gift of sobriety day by day. Each day of sobriety made it more possible to surrender lust. And, in turn, each day of surrendering lust nurtured the gift of sobriety. Sexaholics Anonymous says, “We also see that lust is the driving force behind our sexual acting out, and true sobriety includes progressive victory over lust” (202).

Recommended Reading

AA Tradition: How it Developed

Who is a Member of AA? 10-12

Discovering the Principles

What Can We Say to Newcomers in Relationships? 25-28

Sexaholics Anonymous

The Sobriety Definition 191-93

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (AA)

Tradition Three 139-45

Long Form 189

Questions to Consider

  1. Do I have a sincere desire to stop lusting? To become sexually sober?

  2. What principles does this Tradition prompt me to practice?

  3. How does Tradition Three promote unity?

  4. How does Tradition Three benefit the sexaholic who still suffers?

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

  6. Do I prejudge newcomers as sincere or phony? Do I warmly welcome them all?

  7. Am I equally welcoming to all members regardless of race, gender, sexual preference, youth, or perceived maturity?

  8. Do I treat some members special because of prestige, notoriety, wealth, or another reason?

  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?