Adult Children of Sex Addicts Turning to Recovery Groups

The self-help movement of adult children of alcoholics (ACOA) profoundly impacted the mental health and chemical dependence fields by introducing a theoretical systems perspective, which posited alcoholism as a family disease.

In keeping with this model, adult children of sex addicts or compulsively sexual persons are also turning to self help recovery groups such as S-Anon and S-Ateen, to collectively heal the wounding of relational and sexual trauma incurred within one’s family.

Sex addiction is characterized by compulsive sexual acting-out, impervious to insight and progressive negative consequences.


The primary function of sexual acting-out is to avoid uncomfortable feelings often rooted in unresolved traumatic wounds. By losing him/her self in ritualized fantastical sexual scenarios, the sex addict deflects from the distress caused by their traumatic wounds.

Paradoxically, the acting-out symbolically expresses the very wounds from which they are running. For example, an adult male raised by a seductive histrionic emasculating mother may find himself compulsively driven to be sexually subjugated by exploitive, yet alluring women.

An alternate fixation may take the form of him identifying with his aggressor and channeling his unresolved rage through repetitious sexualized aggression.

Sex addicts who are partnered and are parents may remain so enslaved to the addictive cycles of pleasure and gratification, that they become increasingly more detached, secretive and oblivious to the impact their behavior has on themselves and their family.

Blind to the repercussions of his/her behavior, the sex addiction escalates, pulling the family system into a morass of traumatic stress.

Psychic Wounds

The psychic wounds that occur in the children who are developmentally incapable of protecting themselves and who do not yet have a clear distinction between self and other, is extensive.

Unconditionally dependent upon their parents, children have limited agency to affect their circumstances.

They cannot protect themselves from caregivers who are compulsively driven to act out sexually. Hence, they cannot shield themselves from the seductive maneuvering, extramarital sexual affairs, pornography, spousification or overt forms of sexual molestation.

Additionally, they are often asked to keep secrets for the parent with compulsive sexual behavior, thus triangulating the child in the addict’s world of sexual arousal and deceit.

Typically, the sex addict and his/her co-addict partner convince themselves that their children are not affected because they are too young to comprehend what is happening.

On the contrary, this chronic immersion in a sexually charged home environment and pervasive boundary violations is imprinted on a cellular level.

These cellular memories establish a blueprint of the mind/body information absorbed from the environment, setting in motion a multiplicity of difficulties as the child develops.

These developmental wounds are evidenced in the adult child’s life through partner choices, traumatic enactments, psychiatric and addictive disorders and the replication of sexual compulsion and/or sexual aversion.

Unless appropriate therapeutic intervention and remission of the sex addiction occurs, the children continue to be victimized by marital discord, boundary violations, codependency and sexual provocation.

As these children reach adulthood, they may be prone to re-enactments of sexual victimization and objectification and perpetuate the cycle of sex addiction.

The insidious influence of covert and overt incest on the child’s burgeoning sexuality will necessitate comprehensive treatment encompassing stabilization of possible addictions and symptoms rooted in c-ptsd and relational trauma.

Breaking the Cycle

Breaking the generational cycles of sex addiction and intimacy disorders in a culture replete with hyper-sexualized media driven images and corporate marketing strategies that commodify sex and violence is a complex task.

As Jungian analyst and storyteller Dr. Clarissa Estes wrote, “While much psychology emphasizes the familial causes of angst in humans, the cultural component carries as much weight, for culture is the family of the family. If the family of the family has various sicknesses, then all families within that culture will have to struggle with the same malaises.”

For the ACOSA dismantling a cultural indoctrination that glamorizes sexual danger, taboo and intrigue and reconstructing a value system that honors one’s sexuality is essential to the many facets of recovery.

Adult Children of Sex Addicts Turning to Recovery Groups

Rev Sheri Heller, LCSW

Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW, is a seasoned NYC psychotherapist with 25+ years experience in the addiction and mental health fields. Sheri is also an interfaith minister and playwright, and the founder of The Sistah Tribe - Phoenix Project, a therapeutic theater event for at-risk women and girls in the public sector of NYC. For more information, visit


APA Reference
Heller, R. (2015). Adult Children of Sex Addicts Turning to Recovery Groups. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 12 Sep 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Sep 2015
Published on All rights reserved.