13th Stepping:Why It’s a Problem, Not a Solution

Much is said but little is written about the practice commonly referred to as 13th-stepping- which takes place when a more-or-less-seasoned A.A. member acts out a sexual attraction to a newcomer, often under the guise of lending a helping A.A. hand. Last year, however, the monthly newsletter of the Sonoma County (California) Intergroup Fellowship faced the problem head-on by reprinting an article entitled “A Woman’s Point of View on the 13th Step” from the May/]une 1997 issue of The Road Back, published by the Dublin, Ireland, General Service Office.

“Throughout my years in A.A.,” the woman, whom we’ll call Mary, says candidly, “I have from time to time heard occasional mention of the problems of 13th-stepping and have myself indulged to my own detriment. Unfortunately the general attitude when this subject is mentioned swings between a snicker and acute embarrassment; but the consequences have recently hit close to home, in my own group, and I believe a completely honest look at this matter is way overdue within the Fellowship.”

As a woman, Mary says, she is “particularly concerned with the effects of 13th-stepping upon those of my own sex. The assumption that a woman who does not resist sexual advances is a •willing partner and, therefore, no harm is done, is total fallacy. Many women, when they first join A.A., feel a great trust toward the members and often are unable to distinguish between a man who is sincerely helping and one who is just looking for a good time. Sure, it takes two to tango, and there are many successful marriages within A.A., but these aren’t the situations that concern me. I am talking mainly about the newcomer who is reaching out for help and is in a very vulnerable state. I feel it is up to the members of the group to look out for and warn such a woman who frequently is unaware of the emotional disaster such an encounter can cause and lacks the resources within herself to offer much resistance. This should definitely not be interpreted as her being keen to oblige. She is very sick, just as most of us are when we first stop drinking.”

Mary points out that the Big Book, on pages 68-70, “deals with the subject of sex quite clearly.” She suggests that members read carefully and then subject their conduct to this litmus test (p. 69): “We reviewed our own conduct over the years past. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, or inconsiderate? Whom had we hurt? Did we unjustifiably arouse jealousy, suspicion or bitterness? Where were we at fault, what should we have done instead? … In this way we tried to shape a sane and sound ideal for our future sex life.”

Why does the problem of 13th-stepping persist? Carine P. of New York City suggests that for some men, “the old habits of drinking and fancying themselves as Casanovas rescuing maidens in distress die hard. They might well benefit from meetings, meditations, sponsorship and Step Ten in particular.”

On a note of optimism, Carine points out that for every 13th-stepper in A.A., “there are a great many who do the right and sober thing. I remember one instance in which a young newcomer kept following a man in her home group around like a lovesick puppy. Finally he sat her down and gently told her: ‘When you’ve been sober a year or so, perhaps we can consider dating, but not now. The only thing that matters is your sobriety, and to keep it you need to immerse yourself in A.A.-to the

exclusion of anything else that gives you the feeling of a high but that, like all roller-coaster rides, goes down as well as up.’”

Comments Mike H., of Ventura, California: “What people sometimes forget is that women as well as men engage in 13th-stepping- I remember one good-looking guy who was new to A.A. and had the girls bearing down on him like so many freight trains. Furthermore, 13th-stepping can be detrimental to the stepper as well as the steppee. When I came into A.A., my group was full of newcomers who were very attractive but also very sick. I was lucky to have an assist from a fellow in the group who’d been sober awhile. ‘We stay away from the newcomer women,’ he counseled, ‘not for them but for our own sobriety.”‘

As published in
News and Notes from the General Service Office of A.A. ®
Box 459 VOL. 47, No.2/ APRIL – MAY 2001

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