Sexual anorexia is a term used to describe a form of sexual addiction that exists at the opposite end of the continuum from the hyper sexuality condition that is more commonly known as sexual addiction. While excessive and extreme sex is more easily understood as addictive, similar to an alcoholic’s excessive drinking and a food addict’s overeating, the extreme avoidance of sex can also be addictive. It is addictive because it exhibits the characteristics of addiction: compulsivity, living in the extreme, violating some of one’s personal values, being powerless to stop the behavior, and causing problems in the addict’s primary relationship. How some of these attributes of sexual anorexia work will be described further on in this discussion.
The term, sexual anorexia, is borrowed from the medical condition known as anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder in which the sufferer has a distorted body image, inaccurately viewing oneself as overweight or fat, and as a result compulsively avoiding food, which can lead to serious medical problems and even death. Like food anorexics, sexual anorexics have a distorted perception of their sexuality, viewing it as undesirable, unnecessary, repulsive or even evil. So they compulsively avoid sex.
People with this problem sometimes justify their avoidance of sex on religious, moral or medical grounds. For them there is no choice whether to be sexual or under what circumstances or with whom to be sexual. They attempt to live in ways that eliminate sexual activity: by avoiding emotionally and physically intimate connections with others, by avoiding altogether relationships that could become sexual, by avoiding social contact. Therefore, it becomes obvious that the avoidance is not only evading sexual contact but circumventing deeper connection with others. It becomes a style of living for the person suffering with this condition so that emotionally, socially, as well as sexually, the person isolates from others. Some sexual anorexics do marry or form other committed partner relationships but will manipulate their partners in order to avoid, postpone or reduce sexual interactions. This is done by redirecting activities or conversation that could lead to sex, or dressing in an unappealing manner, staying up at night until the partner has gone to bed and gone to sleep, or simply refusing advances.
Sexual Anorexics and Hypersexual Partners
Sexual anorexics who form partner relationships may in an uncanny twist pair with a partner who is hypersexual. In this scenario the two extreme ends of the sexual addiction spectrum are living under the same roof. Both parties can use rationalization about the other to justify their own addictiveness: the sex addict husband, for example, telling himself, “I have to go outside the marriage, or I have to get sex from the Internet, because she won’t give me any,” and the anorexic wife thinking, “I’m not going to have sex with him because all he wants is sex.” As the old adage goes: opposites attract, and here they are serving to avoid intimacy in the relationship which they both probably fear.
The Paradox of Being Both Sexually Anorexic and Sexually Active
Paradoxically, a person can be sexually anorexic and yet actively engaging in sex. The sexual activity, however, is exclusively with oneself—by masturbating— whereby the sex is designed consciously or unconsciously to isolate and avoid sexual intimacy with others. The masturbation is used to medicate the fear of getting emotionally close or sexually intimate with another person. Like firefighters starting new fires to gain control over an out-of-control blaze, sexual anorexics can use solo sex in isolation to gain control over their fear of being out of control if they were to be in relationship and sexual with someone. This illustrates the fact that the avoidance involves more than just sex. In fact, most instances of sexual anorexia are accompanied by social and emotional isolation. Such people are cut off from others emotionally and physically, and lack zest or joy in their lives. It is easy to see how depression too can be a co-condition of sexual anorexia.