Sexual anorexia may sound like an eating disorder, but it is actually a separate condition from anorexia nervosa. This condition is associated with specific signs and risk factors, and some may describe it as an addiction.

What Is Sexual Anorexia?

According to experts, sexual anorexia develops when a person obsessively avoids sex to the point that it consumes his or her life. It occurs as a defense mechanism and offers a way of achieving power, much like with starvation or hoarding. People also use their obsession with sex avoidance as a way to cope with stress or disappointment.

Who Is at Risk?

Sex avoidance is associated with certain risk factors. These can include any of the following:

  • Child abuse or neglect
  • History of sexual abuse as a child
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Sexual rejection
  • Religious or cultural ties that promote repressing sexual desires

These risk factors indicate that the condition develops as a result of some sort of trauma or negative connotation surrounding sex. Experts also report that people who live with sexual anorexia may be afraid of sex because of a past trauma, or they may be reluctant to become intimate and vulnerable.

Signs of Sexual Anorexia

Signs of sexual anorexia can include any of the following:

  • Dreading sexual pleasure
  • An ongoing fear of sex
  • Avoidance of all things linked to sex
  • Viewing sexuality in a judgmental manner
  • Obsession and fear surrounding sexually transmitted diseases
  • Avoiding intimacy
  • Avoiding sex even when it becomes self-destructive
  • Distorted body image and hatred of bodily functions
  • Depression surrounding sexual functioning
  • Obsession with the sexual activity of others

Is Sexual Anorexia an Addiction?

Sexual anorexia can be described as a process addiction. Experts explain that people living with sexual anorexia can become addicted to the avoidance of sex, as the desire to avoid sex becomes compulsive and takes over a person’s life. Sexual anorexia also fits on the spectrum of sex addiction. At one end is sex addiction, which makes a person compulsively seek sex. At the other end is sexual anorexia, in which someone compulsively avoids it.

It is also important to note that drug addiction may be related to sexual anorexia. One study with males who had a history of drug addiction found that a majority of them had struggled with sexual dysfunction before beginning to use drugs. About half of them indicated that they had used drugs to enhance their sexual performance. It is possible that people who are struggling with sexual anorexia may use drugs to self-medicate or mask their feelings of distress toward sex.