Sexual Anorexia


When we look at intimacy issues and love addiction, there is a wide range of behaviors and conditions that can arise. In stark contrast to sexual addicts who “act out” by regularly bingeing on high-risk and/or promiscuous sexual behavior, people who struggle with sexual anorexia, also known as sexual aversion or sexual avoidance, actively and even obsessively deny themselves intimacy, romance, and sexual connection — many times as a protective measure.

Sexual Anorexia on the Rise

More often that not, this interrupted appetite can lead someone to fear, dread, or to avoid sexual intimacy and meaningful emotional and romantic connections altogether because of anxiety, diminished self-worth, and unexplored trauma.

A condition that’s on the rise and no respecter of age, class, gender, or race, it’s important to distinguish sexual anorexia, from, say, making a positive choice to be chaste or asexual. Sexual anorexia often has an underlying traumatic or emotional component and really wasn’t discussed much in mainstream culture until Meadows Senior Fellow Dr. Patrick Carnes addressed it in his book Sexual Anorexia in 1997.

What Causes Sexual Anorexia?

Notoriously difficult to diagnose, sexual anorexia has often been found in comorbidity of drug or alcohol abuse or self-harm which helps “manage” a pervasive fear of intimacy.

Like many addictive behaviors, the reasons for someone’s compulsive avoidance of sexual intimacy is multi-faceted and layered. For some, the possibility of rejection is too threatening, which makes it “easier” from an emotional standpoint to simply avoid opportunities for connection

For others, sexual abuse, rape, a strict religious upbringing, or body dysmorphia may contribute to avoiding sex, intimacy, or something as simple as hugging or holding hands because of fear or shame.

People in long marriages or partnerships have also been known to struggle with bouts of sexual anorexia, with one party withholding sex or romantic connection because of an unresolved dispute, lack of communication (the “silent treatment”), lingering resentment, or power struggles. This can also cause one or both partners to retreat from healthy expressions of intimacy.

Myriad physical causes may also be contributing factors to sexual anorexia. The most common include chronic illness, exhaustion, hormone imbalances, impotence, recent childbirth, and breastfeeding, not to mention prescribed medication that may inhibit libido.

Sexual Anorexia Contributing Factors

  • Chronic illness
  • Exhaustion
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Impotence
  • Recent childbirth
  • Breastfeeding
  • Prescribed medication that inhibit libido
  • Sexual abuse
  • Rape
  • Strict religious upbringing
  • Body dysmorphia

Help for Sexual Anorexia

While it may look a little different than sex addiction, sexual anorexia is often a symptom of a deeper disconnect from yourself and those around you. As a result, many people struggling with sexual anorexia and other intimacy issues wrestle with longing for affection while simultaneously believing they are undeserving of love. As a result, abstinence and isolation seem like the only safe options moving forward, and anger may be a default reaction when the subject of sex or intimacy is brought up.

We understand the impact that sexual anorexia can have in a woman’s life. Our sexual anorexia treatment doesn’t just address the symptoms, it also addresses the underlying issues and factors that contributed in the first place.

At Willow House, our tight-knit community of women allows everybody to drop the facades and pretenses and invites them to work through the shame and pain that drives love addiction.

In a safe, nurturing environment among their peers, women are guided on a journey of recovery by examining the principal causes of addiction and co-occurring disorders with a goal of gaining the courage to face difficult issues, healing from emotional trauma and becoming accountable for their own feelings, behaviors, and recovery.

If you or someone you care about would benefit from recovery at Willow House, don’t hesitate to contact us today.

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