Sexual anorexia, in which a person obsessively avoids sex, may be a result of sexual abuse, sexual rejection, childhood neglect or other trauma.

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 addictionExperts 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.

Jonathan Strum
Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
Jenni Jacobsen
Medically Reviewed By – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has seven years of experience working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health diagnoses. Read more
Sources

Carnes, Patrick. “Sexual anorexia: Overcoming sexual self-hatred.” August 7, 2009. Accessed October 5, 2019.

Sex Addicts Anonymous. “Intimacy and sexual avoidance.” (n.d.). Accessed October 5, 2019.

La Pera, G., et al. “Sexual dysfunction prior to first drug use among former drug addicts and its possible causal meaning on drug addiction: preliminary results.” The Journal of Sexual Medicine, July 31, 2007. Accessed October 5, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.