sexual anorexia

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Understanding Sexual Anorexia

By Rachel Zimmerman

Recently, a close friend of mine had to cut short our visit so he could get to his weekly Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meeting.

This friend, I’ll call him Kevin, is a highly successful, functional person and a prominent community leader. He has close friends, family and a long-term romantic relationship. But he is, quite often, repulsed and terrified by sex. Let me clarify: On and off over decades, he’s been terrified of sex with anyone he feels emotionally connected to or loves.

He described to me the intense panic when his live-in girlfriend (now wife) would initiate even moderate sexual overtures, saying that sometimes if she started kissing him or touched him in certain ways, he felt as if he were being physically attacked, and would experience shortness of breath, cringing and terror. When he felt that intense sexual aversion, he’d shut down, or run from any type of close physical connection.

However, when it came to emotionally disconnected sexual or erotic adventures, he was pretty much up for anything, frequenting strip clubs, hooking up with strangers (married, unstable women, for instance) or pining after completely unattainable and inappropriate prospects.

Now that he’s going to 12-step meetings he identifies his condition this way: He is both a sexual addict and a sexual anorexic, which has been described as “an obsessive state in which the physical, mental, and emotional task of avoiding sex dominates one’s life.” Kevin explained that he’d either “act out” (through his obsession with and compulsion toward inappropriate sex) or “act in” (repelled by intimate, emotionally-laden sex, he’d steer clear of it altogether much as an anorexic self-starves to try to control intense, chaotic, shameful feelings.)

He offered this food analogy: “It’s like I’m craving cotton candy day after day, but when there’s a healthy, well-rounded meal, I won’t eat it, I’m repulsed.”

He offered this food analogy: “It’s like I’m craving cotton candy day after day, but when there’s a healthy, well-rounded meal, I won’t eat it, I’m repulsed.”

I’d never heard the term “sexual anorexia” but as soon as Kevin raised it and described it as one extreme dimension of his overall sexual addiction, I began to see it all over the place. Newsweek’s Dec. 5 cover story, for instance, warns of “The Sex Addiction Epidemic.”

Sex addiction is also the focus of the new Steve McQueen film, Shame, about a young, attractive New Yorker’s unrelenting addiction to anonymous, emotionally dead and seemingly pleasureless sex all over Manhattan — on the N train, in his Chelsea apartment, with prostitutes, whatever. Continue reading