Sexual Anorexia

Call for Consultation: 646-681-7808

The word “anorexia” means “without appetite”.  The term “sexual anorexia” refers to a lack of sexual appetite, and is used to describe people who have developed an aversion to anything sexual.  Like sex addiction, sexual anorexia is fundamentally an intimacy disorder and thus goes beyond simply having low sexual desire or reduced libido.  It is a state in which the thought of being sexual with oneself or with others creates considerable distress.  The anxiety produced can become chronic and can impact some of the most basic social functioning, sometimes to the point of isolation.

Sexual anorectics believe that sex can be dangerous, and are often frightened by their own sexual needs.  Sometimes there are irrational beliefs about oneself or the world (e.g. “I am defective and unlovable; if I depend on others my needs will never be met”).  These beliefs can result in distorted thoughts about sex, and the distortions can fuel the need to keep sex at a safe distance.

Just as the sex addict is preoccupied with being sexual, the anorectic is preoccupied with avoiding sex, and may go through elaborate rituals or distancing strategies to avoid bringing sexual attention to themselves.  Paradoxically, anorectics may have periods of high sexual activity following periods of total sexual avoidance.  Much like bulimics, they may engage in binge and purge cycles, going through phases of extreme deprivation alternating with promiscuous sexual behavior.  Despite their aversion to sex, anorectics may be engaged in sexual relationships, including marriage.

Sexual anorexia can affect men and women and may co-exist with other addictions, including sex addiction, food addiction, and drug and alcohol addiction.  Many anorectics report histories that often include:

  • early neglect or other forms of abuse
  • sexual exploitation or traumatic sexual rejection
  • growing up in rigid, disengaged families
  • exposure to cultural, social or familial influences that view sex negatively and are sexually repressive

Criteria for sexual anorexia may include:

  • rigid, judgmental attitudes toward ones own sexuality and preoccupation with the sexual behavior and perceived sexual intentions of others
  • fear of intimacy and sexual pleasure
  • distress, anxiety, restlessness or irritability because of sexual contact or potential sexual contact
  • shame and self-loathing about sexual experiences, body perception and sexual attributes
  • self-destructive behavior in order to avoid, limit or stop sex
  • sexual aversion affecting work, hobbies, friends, family and primary relationships

Recovery from sexual anorexia is possible.  Treatment will focus on uncovering and healing early traumatic wounds, identifying irrational and self-defeating core beliefs, and sensitively examining the components of healthy sexuality.  The Center for Personal Growth & Creativity offers workshops, individual and group therapy, EMDR, psychodrama and art therapy to explore, to educate, to heal, and to help develop new beliefs and behaviors that will allow for true emotional and physical intimacy within appropriately healthy and trusting relationships.

Call for Consultation: 646-681-7808