Sexual anorexia is a really important topic, and isn’t getting the attention it deserves. Sexual anorexia is the unhealthy fixation on avoiding sex out of fear and shame. It can appear on the surface like a commitment to sexual purity (just as food anorexia can appear on the surface to be healthy self-discipline around eating). But under the surface sexual anorexia is very different than it appears. It’s not about healthy self-control, it’s about fear, self-hatred, and (very often) unresolved trauma from sexual abuse.
Just like sex addiction, sexual anorexia is often misunderstood. It’s not simply a matter of having a low sex drive. It has to do with anxiety and repulsion towards sex. Wikipedia describes it as: “A loss of ‘appetite’ for romantic-sexual interaction. However, the term is used broadly and can be better defined as a fear of intimacy to the point that the person has severe anxiety surrounding sex with emotional content i.e. in an intimate relationship.”
Patrick Carnes has written the book on this topic, with the title “Sexual Anorexia: Overcoming Sexual Self-Hatred.” Here are a few quotes from an article which features a reprint of the introduction to the book:
Sexual anorexia is an obsessive state in which the physical, mental, and emotional task of avoiding sex dominates one’s life. Like self-starvation with food or compulsive dieting or hoarding with money, deprivation with sex can make one feel powerful and defended against all hurts.
When referring to food appetite, anorexia means the obsessive state of food avoidance that translates into self-starvation. Weight concerns and fear of fat transform into a hatred of food and a hatred of the body because the body demands the nurturance of food. food anorexics perceive bodily cravings for sustenance as a failure of self-discipline. The refusal to eat also becomes a way for food anorexics to reassert power against others, particularly those who may be perceived as trying to control the anorexic, trying in some manner to prevent the anorexic from being his or her “true” self.
Many professionals have observed how food anorexia and sexual anorexia share common characteristics. In both cases, the sufferers starve themselves in the midst of plenty. Both types of anorexia feature the essential loss of self, the same distortions of thought, and the agonizing struggle for control over the self and others. Both share the same extreme self-hatred and sense of profound alienation. But while the food anorexic is obsessed with the self-denial of physical nourishment, the sexual anorexic focuses his or her anxiety on sex. As a result, the sexual anorexic will typically experience the following:
* a dread of sexual pleasure
* a morbid and persistent fear of sexual contact
* obsession and hyper vigilance around sexual matters
* avoidance of anything connected with sex
* preoccupation with others being sexual
* distortions of body appearance
* extreme loathing of body functions
* obsessional self-doubt about sexual adequacy
* rigid, judgmental attitudes about sexual
* excessive fear and preoccupation with sexual diseases
* obsessive concern or worry about the sexual activity of others
* shame and self-loathing over sexual experiences
* depression about sexual adequacy and functioning
* intimacy avoidance because of sexual fear
* self-destructive behavior to limit, stop, or avoid sex
Here are a couple more good quotes on this subject from Joe Kort:
“Negative associations about sexuality are usually formed by some sexual trauma or abuse – possibly incest by a family member, an older neighborhood boy or girl, a clergyman, teacher, or anyone older who imposes their adult sexuality on the child – leaving them feeling terrified, powerless, angry and often blaming themselves.”
“Children should not be exposed to sexual contact for many reasons, one of which is that they are not ready, physically or developmentally, to handle it. In adulthood, many trauma survivors become sexually anorexic or sexually addicted. But neither disorder is really about sex: it arises from the initial loss of control over what happened to them as children. Adult sexuality imposed on a child impedes the child’s own sexual development, so they either act out (in sexual addiction) or act in (become sexually anorexic).”