Sexual anorexia

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We all have moments where we just don’t feel like being intimate with our spouse. We might avoid sex because we’re tired or stressed, or because we don’t feel sexy or attractive. If we are angry with Hubby or just in a lousy mood, we may find ourselves rejecting his sexual advances, too.

A low sex drive is one thing but some people are known to starve themselves of sexual intimacy. They don’t have an “appetite” for romantic-sexual interaction, and in fact, find the very idea of discussing and having sex with their partner distressing and disgusting. Their fear of sexual and emotional intimacy runs so deep that they go to extreme lengths to avoid or limit sex altogether.

Over time, this lack of sexual desire and compulsive sexual avoidance can negatively impact their marriage, causing the sexually anorexic partner to push their spouse away, and leaving their spouse feeling hurt, confused, angry and resentful from the rejection.

The sexual anorexic continues this avoidance even though she knows that her behaviour is hurtful to her significant other and harmful to her relationship.

 

What causes sexual anorexia?   

Sexual anorexia, also known as sexual aversion disorder, is different from abstinence or celibacy in that all of the sexual anorexic’s energy is channelled into avoiding sex or intimacy at all costs.

Unlike sex addicts, who are preoccupied with sex to the point where it affects their lives and intimate relationships, sexual anorexics may have rigid or judgmental attitudes about sex, and may even indulge in self-destructive behaviours to limit, control or avoid sex, and sex-related situations.

Read more: Is quick sex a sign of an unhappy marriage?

 

The root cause of sexual anorexia is thought to be trauma. This trauma might be from the sexual anorexic having been neglected by her parents or caregivers during her early, formative years, or from childhood sexual abuse.

Essentially, the sexual anorexic longs for intimacy and affection, but, through her traumatic experiences, she’s learnt that she is undeserving of love and that other people can’t be trusted. Keeping others at bay therefore becomes a safer and more comfortable option than getting close to them.

Martha Lee, a clinical sexologist at Eros Coaching, says that being in a loving, monogamous relationship doesn’t really make a difference to the sexual anorexic’s feelings about sex. “Love and sex are inter-related but they are not the same,” she explains. “You can be loved and feel loved, yet not feel like having sex. Sexual anorexics simply do not feel like having sex.”

 

Looking out for the signs

How can you tell that your lack of sexual desire is not due to some other issue, like stress, fatigue, depression, anxiety, or a hormonal imbalance, for example?

According to Martha, one key clue is that you may feel afraid or angry when the subject of sex comes up. Your obsession with avoiding sex may even start to dominate your life.

And, if you do find yourself in a sex-related situation, you may stiffen up when touched by your partner or have feelings of shame and loathing with regards to your body and the sexual experience.

Some sexual anorexics also indulge in “bulimic” sexual behaviour, enacting a binge-and-purge cycle where they go through periods of extreme sex deprivation followed by promiscuous sexual behaviour.

 

Read more: 10 foods to increase your sex drive

 

Don’t confuse sexual anorexia with asexuality. People who are asexual also lack interest in sex but they are not considered sexual anorexics. “Asexuality affects a very small percentage of the population,” says Martha. “Most of us would have experienced a low sex drive at some point in our lives, but that definitely does not make us sexually anorexic.”

 

Overcoming it

The outlook for people suffering from sexual anorexia varies greatly. Most treatments are focused on getting to the root of the sexual anorexic’s emotional pain and their mistrust of others, and helping them establish a caring and trusting relationship with their significant other.

If you believe you may be suffering from sexual anorexia, Martha suggests visiting a healthcare professional who has positive views about sex and who will not judge or demonise you. Look for someone who is committed to helping you understand yourself and reclaim your relationship with sex.

“In the meantime, it is important to keep the lines of communication with your partner open,” Martha adds. “This can keep him from feeling rejected. Focus on non-sexual affection and touch while you work through your sexual challenges. This may help you feel connected and more hopeful about your future together.”