Sexual Anorexia, Continued…

For anyone who might be interested, here are some more excerpts from and commentary on the book I’ve been finding so helpful – “Sexual Anorexia: Overcoming Sexual Self-Hatred” by Patrick Carnes. It’s basically the text of an email I sent to my best friend when I first discovered this book, so it’s a bit personal, too. But I’m laying it all out on the table, because my issues are all shame-based. And I’m tired of living in shame and hiding who I really am from the world. I’m doing this in my real life too, of course, but every opportunity just strengthens my resolve not to live my life wearing a mask anymore.

Since I started my recovery, and started sharing these things about myself, I feel like the weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders! I feel fantastic, in fact, and while I still have my ups and downs, I know that I’m never going to live like that again. And I guess the proof is in the pudding, as they say, because I’ve already lost almost 20 pounds without even trying – buh-bye, fat suit! I don’t need you anymore!

Now all I need is a partner to practice on, and I’ll be all set – LOL!


This guy is talking about sexual dysfunctions being on a spectrum, like eating disorders are - where you have everything from anorexia to compulsive over-eating to bulimia. He says that recent research has been showing that all addictive and compulsive behaviours run over the same type of spectrum. So while sex addition has been recognized for awhile now, the opposite extreme - sexual anorexia as he calls it - hasn't been recognized as a problem until recently. But that the same type of range is found here, too, as well as combo behaviours - the binge-purge of bulimia can be found in sexual dysfunction as well. And that often different types of dysfunctions come in clusters, either within the same individual or within the same family system.

When he was describing sexual anorexia at first, I wasn't sure it applied to me. The feelings and motivations rang true, but not necessarily the behaviours. But I could eventually see that, for instance, while I had trouble identifying with the "rejects or denies all thoughts of sex" concept, because of course I am a randy ***** in my private life, I did - do, have always - behaved like this to the world. I've spent years pretending that I don't have any sexual feelings at all, so that, for instance, my husband wouldn't get any funny ideas about maybe trying to approach me again. Or that guys at work wouldn't make the mistake of trying to hit on me. **** off, ******** - I don't do sex. But it's not that I thought they would, it's so I wouldn't have to deal with it when they didn't. And I was always angry about that. Rage-fully, blindingly angry. Unless I numbed it out somehow, with food or ************ or overwork, and then by using my “in fantasy life” (“IFL”) when I thought I was going to die because I never felt anything.

I wondered if the bulimia-type behaviour could explain what I do, or if I was just an atypical case. Because when he talked about bulimic-type behaviour in the first section, it was always in the context of being abstinent for years, then acting out and having a bunch of one-night stands and affairs, then being abstinent again. That's not me. But I've finally gotten to the section where he describes the different types of dysfunction in more detail, and whatddya know - the example he gives of binge-purge is of a guy who has no sex in his marriage (or "real life"), but masturbates compulsively to excess. Bingo. That's me. Or was, for most of my life. Until recent years, when I went into a more typical sexual anorexia. Nothing at all for vast stretches - no point even thinking about it, so I wouldn't let myself. Then I binged on the occasional IFL guy. Then went back to absolutely nothing again for another long stretch.

Actually, he says: "One of the most common forms of simultaneous phases is where an addict is acting out dramatically outside of a committed relationship but within that relationship can only act in - can, in other words, only be compulsively non-sexual."

Then, talking about the case example: "To live in the fantasy world of compulsive ************ was safe in its unreality. To love his wife, but not be sexual with her, could also be made safe. The idea of combining the two, however, filled Mick with abject fear."

And this isn't just me, it's my husband, too. In fact, the guy in the example has ended up like this because of ****** issues. No wonder we don't work together, eh? :)

And going on: "What is common for many, however, is acting out - or acting in - sexually while avoiding sexual intimacy. This has been seen in sex addicts in general...They all have in common a tremendous fear of sex and intimacy. They are also often tormented by self-hatred because they feel so flawed."

I'm putting my hand up again here, of course. Oh, and he talks about the "fat suit", too, and how that's used to avoid intimacy. Eating disorders often go hand in hand with sexual disorders, he says. And I've run the gamut from anorexia to compulsive over-eating, too. Workaholism; financial extremes - compulsive hoarding to compulsive spending. I do those, too. He talks about them all being related. That they all come from living "in the extremes of the shame cycle, and the extremes are interactive".

Do you remember when I was first identifying with the sexual addiction stuff, that what got my attention was the "core beliefs" by which sex addicts live? How much I related to them? He says these apply equally to the sexual anorexic. By way of refresher:

1. I am basically a bad, unworthy person.
2. No one would love me as I am.
3. My needs are never going to be met if I have to depend on others.
4. Sex is my most important/terrifying need (depending on whether you are an addict or anorexic).

This is another section of the book that really hit home for me:

"Another form of deprivation is compulsive isolation. Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) underlines that along with the sexual deprivation of the sexual anorexic often goes emotional and social deprivation. All forms of human contact can become constricted. Signs of intimacy deprivation noted by SLAA members include:

• long periods of no social activities
• feelings of helplessness at being alone
• staying aloof in social groups
• fear of being noticed or recognized
• distant relationships with co-workers
• panic if someone initiates a closer relationship
• discomfort when offered friendship or affection
• dread of being attracted to someone
• attraction only to unavailable or unresponsive persons
• difficulty in playing and having fun with others
• fear of letting people know that they matter
• feelings of inadequacy about all relationships
• overwhelmed at the prospect of being honest with others
• fear or resentment toward those who are socially active
• feeling damaged in one's ability to have relationships
• spending time only with family

Such isolation is the logical conclusion of the core beliefs...when we believe in control. The shame cycle becomes arrested in an existential position based on fear: Do not do or accept anything that would create vulnerability. No chances for mistakes. No chances to be hurt again. No vulnerability. A life stance based on safety - and the denial of human needs."

Well, for Pete’s sake - did they write this specifically about me, or what? Every. Single. *******. One. Of. Them.

Aside from the rest, I've always gone through what I call my "hermit" phases. But it's just been getting worse over time. I'm basically living without any human contact at all right now, aren't I? Damn...

Talking about "The Deprivations": "Deprivation draws on two conclusions: (1) The deprived person does not feel that he or she is worthy or deserving of pleasure or comfort; and (2) the deprived person feels less anxious and more safe in a deprived state. It is not surprising then that those who suffer compulsive deprivation will seek a number of areas in which to be deprived."

Okay, I'm skipping around a lot now, but earlier on:

"The anorexic also generally feels anger toward the family of origin. If family members were not part of whatever abandonment or abuse occurred, they did not prevent it. The family may have done nothing to facilitate healing, or perhaps failed to teach essential coping skills that may have softened or prevented the pain. Usually, the rage of sexual anorexia is profoundly passive-aggressive. To not act is a statement of anger that has long gone unrecognized even by professionals. In this case, not acting is paramount since to act (to become sexual) renders the anger meaningless and thereby makes the original betrayal, the first cause of the anger, now somehow acceptable. This goes far beyond inhibited sexual desire and is much more than just being angry with a partner. It represents a fundamental bind that translates to the sexual anorexic as follows: If I am sexual, I am despicable for letting myself down about my deepest wound. If I am not sexual, I will be untrue to my own nature as a sexual being. Either way I will hate myself. But, of the two options, the terror associated with being sexual, with revisiting the original psycho-sexual trauma, is far, far worse.

Sex as Terror

Behind the anger of the sexual anorexic, then, is a deep and abiding terror. One part of this terror is a powerful, generalized fear of failure. Always doing things well is one strategy for covering up how unworthy the anorexic feels. So on one level, the fear is of disappointing others and not meeting expectations. The deeper fear, however, is the fear of sex. Remember, the primary goal of the sexual anorexic is to find ways to not combine intimacy and sex. When successful sex and intimacy merely serve to open another window to possible betrayal, the aversion to sex becomes the barrier that keeps the private, vulnerable self safe. The terror, as mentioned above, is about re-experiencing the pain. From this dilemma, another core belief emerges: The sexual anorexic believes that "sex is my most terrifying need".

To fully understand how the sexual anorexic reaches this conclusion, we must look further into the making of a sexual anorexic. First, sexual anorexics tend to come from "rigid" families. These families are very controlling. Usually one person is in charge and there is little or no negotiation about the rules. If a family member does not measure up to expectations, punishment is severe, arbitrary, and immediate. A family system is "closed" when the family is extremely resistant to new ideas. It is dangerous in such a family to make a mistake. Perfection is expected. Growing up in this family leaves children with few options. Children can be perfectionistic and try to blend in by adopting the given values of the family or, in an effort to be their own person, resist all demands and become rebellious. Or they may even be both, meaning that on the surface they will appear to adopt the family's values, but secretly they rebel and defy the rules of the family. No matter which option the child chooses, however, there will be fear.

Usually these families tend to be sex negative as well. Sex is treated in a highly moral and condemning fashion. Parents are extremely judgmental and punitive about sexual issues with the children. Yet the children may discover on the part of one or both parents a series of secret sexual behaviours that violate the code preached to the children. In rigid families this is how many offspring learn about having a secret life. At the very least, they learn the lessons taught by little or no affection in a puritanical or sexually anxious family environment.

Anorexics also tend to come from "disengaged" families. This classic dysfunctional family has family members passing each other like the proverbial "ships in the night". They do not have much in common, nor do they share much with each other. Intimacy is very elusive. For children there can be a failure to bond with the parents. They learn not to trust other people and to fear intimacy. As adults they will tend to choose either compulsive avoidant or compulsive addictive behaviours - or some workable combination of both.

The other dysfunctional family system that sometimes leads to sexual anorexia is the "enmeshed" family. The enmeshed family is characterized by too much closeness. Boundaries are broad, vague, or nonexistent. Each family member's business is everyone's business, and there is no sense of emotional privacy or even autonomy. In such families, the child may have difficulty learning how to set boundaries and be a separate person. The end result is that children learn to fear intimacy because their only experience of it was overwhelming. Disengaged or enmeshed - either family system creates children with little trust and tremendous fear of being close. In addition to these dysfunctional family systems, the sexual anorexic's family of origin usually was marked with substance and/or behaviour additions as well as physical and/or psychological abuse."

I really skimmed quickly over the initial part of the book that talks in detail about stuff like the above. But I mean to go back and read it in more detail, because there's a lot of meat there. I'm racing through this book because it's hitting home so much that can't wait to see "how it ends", as it were. The first part is supposed to explain it; the last part how to fix it. I'm excited to read that.

For me, I had a family of origin that was all of the above - rigid, closed, disengaged and enmeshed. Rigid, because one was expected not to cause any trouble. Even by being alive. And when I wasn't being a nuisance I was being a trophy, so I'd better be something worthwhile showing off. Be perfect or be punished by withdrawal of attention. Except don't be worthwhile or perfect if it might compete with mother. It all seems very confusing, but it wasn't, really: I only mattered in relation to my mother's needs, and didn't have an identity outside of that. Be perfect! Be invisible! Be whatever else I need! It changes from minute to minute, but you need to anticipate and make sure you get it right!

Then there was the closed aspect. My grandparents and their strict moralizing. My mother and her be sexual at your peril, ***** - I'm the only one who gets that kind of attention around here - but tell me all about ******* your boyfriend. And I'll tell you all about ******* mine. Or not. I'll tell you all about how terrible it is to go without. And how I've never had an ******. I'll just tell you everything, until it makes your ears bleed. And don't think you're ever going to have a private thought, either, missy - because I know where you keep your diaries.

Disengaged because there wasn't any love there at all. Or what there was, was so dysfunctional that it really didn't count as such. And it was all one-sided. Mom was never interested in my feelings or my needs. Except as it suited her perverse purposes. Hence the enmeshment, and resulting lack of boundaries and emotional privacy. I don't care how you feel about him, just tell me about ******* him!


I talked with my girlfriend a lot about this over the succeeding days, weeks, months - and of course I’m in therapy now working out the last of the kinks as well - but I’ll stop there because these are the relevant parts that started the process of realization for me that initiated my recovery.

But I can’t recommend this book highly enough for anyone who has issues with their own sexuality – whether it’s you or your refuser – to the extent that any issues such as these might be coming into play. The first half of the book is excellent in terms of clearly explaining the disease process, while the second half of the book contains a pretty comprehensive recovery regime that’s an excellent starting point for examining these behaviours and working on turning them around. It’s been invaluable to me, and I hope it might be of some help to others of you as well.

aamater aamater
46-50, F
Sep 21, 2012