Today I want to talk about a concept that is often overlooked and sometimes misunderstood in the field of Compulsive Sexual Behaviors. I am referencing to the concept of Sexual Anorexia, a term used to identify an individuall who has obsessive thinking around the avoidance of sex and intimacy. It is important to differentiate this symptom from the apparent symptomalogy of the Sex Addict, one who has obsessive thoughts around obtaining sexual gratification. Though these two concepts have almost polar opposite presentations, they both fall under the umbrella of Sexual Addiction.
Sexual Anorexia is a compulsive avoidance of giving or receiving sexual, social, or emotional nourishment. This can present very similarly to the symptomalogy of food anorexia, this person refuses and restricts oneself to all nourishment through food, but instead of refusing food, individuals with sexual anorexia refuse to fulfill their need for intimacy and connection. This can be highly problematic as we are wired relationally to bond and secure attachment, in a sense we can not survive without adequate bonding and connection. Put in that sense, individuals with Sexual Anorexia are restricting themselves from the air to breath and bring bonding science into the system. A person with sexual anorexia may experience an uncontrollable need to avoid sexual behaviors at all costs. This often leads to self-destructive patterns and negative impacts on their relationships followed by severe loneliness and isolation. A person with sexual anorexia also may have experiences of restlessness, depression, anxiety or irritability when engaging in sexual contact, or when faced with the possibility of engaging in an intimate relationship. This process has the characteristics of a fearful and avoidant attachment style focused on the area of avoidance with accompanying levels of anxiety. It is important to note that individuals with sexual addiction often face the same emotional consequences when abstaining from sexual contact and due to their disorganized attachment styles present with underlying fears of intimacy. Thus, both the person who is compulsively engaging in sexual behaviors and the person who is compulsively avoiding sexual behaviors may both have judgemental or rigid beliefs about their sexuality that they attempt to overcome through their maladaptive coping behaviors. These core beliefs are at the root of these behaviors often formulated out of trauma experiences of abandonment, neglect and other forms of relational abuse.
Sexual addiction and sexual anorexia are often considered to be on opposite ends of the same spectrum. The person who is sexually restricting on one side, and the person who is sexually binging on the other side. It is important to note that both individuals present very similarly in many ways making it sometimes complicated to diagnose between the two. What remains the same is both individuals experience powerlessness over their behaviors, and consequences for their behaviors that impact every aspect of their life. These conditions are also similar in the sense that they lend the tendency for the person to have obsessive thoughts; a mental preoccupation about sex that is at the root of the addiction cycle. As noted above and again to differentiate the two types; with sexual addiction the person has obsessive thoughts around obtaining sexual gratification while the individual with sexual anorexia is preoccupied with thinking around the avoidance of sex and intimacy.
When individuals isolate themselves and abstain from intimate relationships, it establishes an unconscious strategy at attempting to protect themselves from further harm that they have not resolved from previous traumatic relationships. While the person with sexual addiction may go to extreme lengths to engage in sexual behaviors, such as exposure to bodily harm or risk of sexually transmitted illnesses, the individual with sexual anorexia will go to similar measures in intensity which may include adjusting their appearance or self mutilation as a way to restrict themselves from intimacy.
For a more comprehensive look at Sexual Anorexia, check out the book writtern by Dr. Carnes: Sexual Anorexia: Overcoming Sexual Self-Hatred.
Mike Quarress CSAT-S