Dr. Chestnut's Blog

Sexual Anorexia: Are You Sexually Anorexic?

Interview with Therapist Dr. Cynthia Chestnut

Do you fear intimacy or do everything you can to avoid having sexual contact? If you answered, "yes" you could possibly be sexually anorexic. To help understand the signs of sexual anorexia and how someone can overcome sexual anorexia, I have interviewed therapist Dr. Cynthia Chestnut.

Tell me a little bit about yourself:
"I am a Couples, Family and Sex Therapist, who practice in the Delaware, and Philadelphia, PA areas. I have been working in Human Services for over 20 years and I am passionate about helping people live healthy lives."

What are the signs and symptoms that someone is sexually anorexic?
"It is important to mention where the term "Sexual Anorexia" came from and how it is understood today.

The concept of "Sexual Anorexia" was first mentioned by a psychologist named Nathan Hare in 1975, in an unpublished dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment for a Ph.D. at the California School of Professional Psychology in San Francisco "Black Male/Female Relationships" (1979-1982) are available in University Microfilms, from the University of Michigan.

Dr. Patrick Carnes presents "sexual anorexia" as a form of sex addiction in his book, Sexual Anorexia: Overcoming Sexual Self-Hatred (1997).

It appears sexual anorexia is defined as an "obsessive state in which the physical, mental and emotional actions of avoiding sex is very prominent in a person's life. It is used as a coping mechanism and comes off as a defense. Sexual anorexia is manifested as a result of trauma and is seen when one may demonstrate behaviors related to fear of intimacy or an underlying social phobia. It may be seem as symptomatic of aggressive passivity to sex and intimacy and also known as a compulsive avoidance of sex.

In the addiction model (Carnes, 1997) the term is seen as the compulsive avoidance of sex that sexual anorexics build their lives around. Sign and symptoms include;

Persistent fear of intimacy, sexual contact, sexual pleasure, sexually transmitted diseases, etc.

  1. Preoccupation, to the point of obsession, with sexual matters, including the sexuality, sexual intentions, and sexual behaviors of others, and their own sexual adequacy.
  2. Negative, rigid, or judgmental attitudes about sex, body appearance, and sexual activity.
  3. Shame and self-loathing over sexual experiences.
  4. Self-destructive behavior in order to avoid, limit or stop sex."

What type of impact can sexual anorexia have on someone's overall life?
"The impact could be severe in one's overall life and in their relationship. Some people who are symptomatic of sexual anorexia may feel very powerful. They need to dominate the sex and managed it in their relationships. They experience sex as a tool to control and manage the physical and emotional experience of love making. They are afraid of being vulnerable and loose control by caring too much or being deeply bonded in a relationship.

It could lead to symptoms of depression and not feeling loved due to his/her behavior that keeps them disconnected and isolated; one may feel unfulfilled overtime because he/she hasn't accomplished the traditional or cultural goal of having a successful relationship. Poor self esteem could also be a residual effect, as well as lack of self confidence even if he/she may be able to appear confident in other areas of their life.

Sexual anorexia is a self destructive process resulting in extreme behavior and symptomatic by appearing promiscuous, or non-sexual.

Although it is mostly associated with addiction it is also a result of an attachment injury."

How can someone overcome sexual anorexia?
"Overcoming sexual anorexia is a process of recovery due to the origin of its existence.

  1. One must acknowledge that sex is a problem
  2. One must recognize that establishing and managing intimacy in their relationship is a problem due to the way the symptoms are experienced in their life.
  3. One must listen to what his/her partner is saying about their lovemaking as a couple and must express their feelings as well,
  4. One must recognize if he/she avoids sex or is controlling the frequency and expression of sex in the relationship.

Acknowledgment of a sexual problem is the first step to healing or getting better. If you can't recognize these relational symptoms for yourself, ask someone significant in your life that is not afraid to be up front with you; otherwise, if you hear people saying that you are afraid of "intimacy, commitment, being vulnerable, guarded, and even aggressive sexually" these things may be a sign."

What type of professional help is available for someone who is sexually anorexic? "One could do the following for help:

  1. Seek a therapist that can help you track some major themes in your history and family of origin to get more insight about yourself and relationship values that have played out in your experiences.
  2. If you want to change work diligently towards changing these patterns and learn to recognize your triggers, be honest in your relationships and when you find a relationship that not only sparks you, but potentially encourages you to experience commitment, vulnerability, trust, and the will to ease down your guard, engage in couple's therapy to work through the barriers that may set you back.
  3. Although criticism is sometimes hurtful and hard to hear, try to hear it. If you hear themes in the criticism, pay attention and explore these themes. You may learn something worth understanding. Don't always rely on your feelings, they sometimes cause you to react and detach so work through your fears.

Therapies such as Emotional Focus Therapy, which focuses on attachment injuries coupled with addiction treatment if your behaviors have addiction features. Internal Family Systems Therapy is an integrative therapy that focuses of the different parts of self helping you to become aware of the power you have within yourself while enabling you to become the narrator of your life learning to rewrite your story. These therapies are especially helpful if you are in a relationship. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy coupled with addiction treatment is also a recommended therapy for those seeking help for recovery.

There are many therapies that are helpful. Finally, surround yourself around objective people who will offer you straight talk cushioned with tender, love and care."

Thank you Dr. Chestnut for doing the interview on sexual anorexia. For more information on Dr. Chestnut or her work you can check out her website on http://www.drcynthiachestnut.com.

References

Carnes, Patrick J. (December 1998). "The case for sexual anorexia: An interim report on 144 patients with sexual disorders". Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity 5 (4): 293'"309. doi:10.1080/10720169808402338. ISSN 1072-0162.

Nelson, Laura (June 2003). "Sexual addiction versus sexual anorexia and the church's impact". Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity 10 (2/3): 179'"191. doi:10.1080/10720160390230682. ISSN 1072-0162

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