While there is much conversation around sexual addiction and the forms it takes, less is written on it's flip side sexual anorexia. With sexual anorexia much like anorexia itself there is an avoidance, except in this instance instead of food the avoidance is around sex. There is a fear of sexual intimacy and sexual desire. For example a previous patient Louise (not her real name) a 46 year old woman in a long term relationship she described as loving, avoided sexual contact with her partner for 14 years and avoided any discussion regarding this. Anna discussed her preoccupation with avoiding sex and was disgusted by the thought of it.
In his book 'Sexual Anorexia Overcoming Sexual Self Hatred', Patrick Carnes discusses how sexual anorexics may compulsively avoid sex (this preoccupation in itself is seen as a form of sexual addiction). Sexual anorexics' may suffer with:
- A persistent fear of sexual intimacy, excessive fear around the transmission of STD's.
- Preoccupation, to the point of obsession, with sexual matters, including the sexuality, sexual intentions, and sexual behaviors of others.
- Shame and self-loathing about sexual experiences.
- Self-destructive behavior in order to avoid, limit or stop sex.
About the Sexual Anorexic
The sexual anorexic can be male or female, they may have a history of sexual abuse/rejection, or may come from a culture or religion which is repressive towards sexuality. The sexual anorexic exerts perceived control by avoiding intimacy and closeness to others. Beneath this is often a wounded individual who fears their need to be connected with others. They are often traumatised and deeply afraid and mistrustful, they may feel unworthy of love or affection. As with any addiction the sexual anorexic is isolated, caught up in the pre-occupation and ritualistic behaviours of their addiction. Isolation gives an illusion of safety and control.
How Sexual Anorexia Works
Whilst sexual anorexia is 'acting in' the person affected may have episodes of sexual 'acting out', which is known as sexual bulimia. A 'binge and purge' cycle. This continues the cycle of sex as compulsive (out of control when sexually active) and shameful. In turn the sexual anorexic may cross addict with food (they may become obese in a attempt to stop others finding them sexually desirable), hoarding or excessive working. They will deny self nurture and nurturing from others and be trapped in depriving behaviors.
What to do if you or someone you know suffers from sexual anorexia
If you recognize the symptoms or behaviors of sexual anorexia it is very important to find support. Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meetings can be a good way to find a support network and start to connect with others in a similar position. Individual counseling in particular with a psycho-sexual practitioner will help you to build trust in relationships and encourage you to process your feelings around sex and sexuality. It may be difficult to ask for help or start to recognize the damaging effects sexual anorexia is having on your life, but there is hope for change, with self awareness and support you can start to heal.
Author's Bio: My practice Hope to Heal is based in Teddington, Middlesex. I offer short and long term therapy to clients.[spoiler title="More About Author" open="0" style="1"]
I have worked in the counselling field since 2008 in both private and public sector agencies. My primary practice has been in the field of addictions therapy and prior to setting up private practise was employed as an addictions therapist by the Priory Roehampton.
Following completion of an advanced diploma in integrative counseling with Richmond College, I went on to complete an Msc in Addiction Psychology and Counseling at London Southbank University. Since graduating my continuing professional development has included completion of a foundation in Art Therapy with Roehampton University, Gender and Identity and Solution Focused Brief Interventions.
Other expertise includes extensive experience of running therapeutic groups and designing and delivering workshops.