By Kari Bratager
What is Sexual Anorexia?
Sexual Anorexia can also be known as sexual aversion or revulsion. Unlike the sexual addict who spends most of their time obsessing about how to obtain sexual contact, a sexual anorexic will spend a majority of their time obsessing over how to avoid sexual contact or thought. There are many factors that sexual anorexics tend to have in common.
First, they obsessively avoid any form of sexual contact, discussion, or other things that may be related to sex. This leads them to fear and avoid most forms of intimacy (especially with the opposite sex), including sexual, emotional, and relational intimacy. When a relationship starts to become too intimate or deep the sexual anorexic may find ways to sabotage the relationship. This avoidance of sexuality and intimacy becomes an obsession for the person affecting their work, hobbies, friends, families, and interfering with their normal life (Carnes, 1997).
Secondly, the sexual anorexic usually deals with a core issue of shame. This may show itself in low self-esteem, self hatred, a distorted body image, doubt over sexual adequacy, and shame over past sexual encounters including abuse. Many sexual anorexics are competent perfectionists who fear making mistakes (Carnes, 1997).
Third, most sexual anorexics also deal with various forms of self destructive behavior including self injury. Since sexual anorexia requires extreme relational deprivation their destructive behavior may take the form of a simultaneous out of control behavior such as overeating, overspending, or workaholism (Carnes, 1997).
Fourth, this person may either identify more with the opposite gender seeing their own gender as weak or bad, or may see themselves or all humanity as gender neutral. They may also see the opposite gender as monstrous or scary (Carnes, 1997).
Fifth, this person usually holds many similar core beliefs. They tend to believe that they are intrinsically bad or evil, undeserving of basic human needs. Because they believe they are evil they also believe that no one will ever be able to truly love them. They also believe that no one will ever be able to meet their needs thus they have to depend fully upon themselves. Finally, they believe that “sex is their most terrifying need (Carnes, 1997, p. 107).”
Portraits of Sexual Anorexia
“The sheer thought of a relationship becoming intimate and leading to sex is enough to cause this person to flee.”
Sexual Anorexia has many different faces. It may be the male or female who seems to be eternally single, they haven’t dated much and those relationships tend to end quickly when they do happen. The sheer thought of a relationship becoming intimate and leading to sex is enough to cause this person to flee. This person has probably created walls in their everyday relationships, and needs to learn to create healthy boundaries that allow some people in. For this person their everyday life is about avoiding sexuality.
It may also look like the married sex addict who feels free in their relationships outside of marriage, may visit prostitutes, or look at pornography on a regular basis but refuses to have sex with their spouse.
Finally, it may look like a married or unmarried sex addict who tries to control their behavior to the point that this need to control their behavior becomes an obsession. This person may never engage in a pattern of sexual addiction again or may bounce back and forth between periods of sexual starvation and sexual binges. This person may also be called a sexual bulimic.
Roots of Sexual Anorexia
Sexual anorexia tends to be linked to the sexual violation of a person at a young age. It is also seen a reaction against living with parents who were sexual addicts. Finally it can also be related to growing up in an atmosphere in which sex was looked down on as being something dirty.
What is the difference between healthy abstinence and sexual anorexia?
Sexual Anorexia may have a component of abstinence, but it differs in that all of the person’s energy is focused on avoiding sex or intimacy at all costs. In general Sexual Anorexia is an addiction that shuts down a person’s ability to truly love others or God. Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous claim that “anorexia is a busy addiction it consists of not doing something and not doing something and not doing something. Not trusting. Not committing. Not surrendering (quoted in Carnes, 1997, p.55).”
This affects all relationships creating an unhealthy situation in which the person may shut down on all forms of intimacy with the opposite sex or the same sex. This also tends to deteriorate one’s relationship with God. If someone is unable to trust others enough to enter into healthy relationships they will probably be unable to trust God enough to be intimate with him. Additionally when one’s whole mental energy is put into avoiding sex there is no energy left for that person to engage God.
“The person who is abstaining from sex in a healthy manner is not preoccupied by sex on a normal basis; although these thoughts may enter their mind, they do not consume the majority of the person’s time and energy.”
The person who is merely abstaining from sex until marriage will probably have a different experience and differing motives. This person may be abstaining in order to please God in whom they have built a trusting intimate relationship. Where as the sexual anorexic performs these same actions in order to control God, whom they fear. Secondly, the person abstaining from sex will still have relationships that are appropriately intimate in emotional, spiritual, and intellectual ways. The sexual anorexic will usually avoid any relationship that becomes too intimate in any of these forms. Finally, the person who is abstaining from sex in a healthy manner is not preoccupied by sex on a normal basis; although these thoughts may enter their mind, they do not consume the majority of the person’s time and energy.
How healing begins
The path to recovering from sexual anorexia can vary from person to person but a person cannot recover from sexual anorexia or any other sexual addiction unless they are in a safe place where they can trust those around them. It is also beneficial that the person be involved with a group of people who struggle with similar issues so that they can start to learn healthy ways of relating to others, and start to feel like there is a place where they belong. Because intimacy has usually been the one thing that sexual anorexics dread most it is important that they find a place where they can start to build appropriate intimacy with other people.
First, many sexual anorexics work hard at making sure that they don’t have any needs either emotionally or physically since these needs may be seen as weakness. As a result many sexual anorexics need to learn how to nurture themselves physically and emotionally. This can include eating healthily, using lotion on a regular basis, taking a bubble bath, getting a massage from a trained Massage Therapist, exercising, doing something pleasurable for oneself, and getting together with friends. Because many sexual anorexics are overly sensitive to touch and may have a fear of intimate touch such things as receiving hugs, putting lotion on one’s own arms and legs, and working with a massage therapist who understands people’s ambivalence towards touch can prove extremely important to a person recovering from sexual anorexia.
Learning to accept appropriate touch from another person, while creating healthy boundaries may be very important in helping a person not only nurture themselves but to also reconnect with their own sensuality. Other helpful hints are taking time to meditate or be in silence for a few minutes a day, stretching, using aromatherapy soaps, oils, or perfumes, and/or enjoying the beauty of those things that are around us.
Finally, it is important to realize that the steps offered above are merely just the beginning of a process that may take a while to work through completely. If this sounds like you or someone you know, there is help available to you. Seek out a support group, a trusted pastor or a trained counselor that can help you work through these issues.
Note: WGA does not agree with everything that is presented in all of the books listed below, but we do find some of the concepts very helpful to people on their healing journey. WGA offers the Amazon link as a convenience to help people find the books we recommend; we do not endorse, nor approve of all books and links that may appear on the Amazon website.
Carnes, P. (1997). Sexual Anorexia: Overcoming sexual self hatred. Center City, MN: Hazelden
Carnes, P. (1989). Contrary to Love: Helping the sexual addict. Minneapolis, MN: CompCare.
Carnes, P. (1991). Don’t Call it love: Recovery from sexual addiction. New York, NY: Bantam Books.
Carnes, P. (2001). Out of the Shadows: Understanding sexual addiction. Minneapolis, MN: CompCare.
May, G. (1988). Addiction and Grace. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row.
Schaumburg, H.W. (1997). False Intimacy: Understanding the struggle of sexual addiction. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
Sex and Love Addicts Annonymous. (1992). Anorexia: Sexual, social, emotional workbook. Newton, Mass: Augustine Fellowship.