Eating Disorders and Sexual Dysfunction
From Encyclopedia of Sex and Sexuality
Intimacy, trust, and control—all factors that are central to healthy sexual relationships—are also bound up with the problems that lead to severe eating disorders. People who have healthful attitudes toward food and eating often have healthful and positive attitudes toward themselves, their bodies, and their sexual feelings. Those who suffer from eating disorders often reject their physical and sexual selves so completely that it can become impossible for them to allow anyone else to accept them sexually or in any other way requiring physical or emotional intimacy.
Studies have shown that more than 60 percent of females with eating disorders have been abused sexually, an overwhelming majority of them as children. A growing number of case studies indicates that among male adolescents and adults with eating disorders there is a strong correlation with gender identity conflict and childhood sexual abuse. (There is, of course, a strong link between childhood sexual abuse and later sexual dysfunction.) It is evident that individuals with eating disorders use enormous amounts of energy to conceal their dysfunctional eating habits. Any of the emotional or physical intimacy that a healthy sexual relationship requires can compromise the secrecy necessary to maintain the food and eating rituals involved in the eating disorder.
In cases involving teenagers—and they form an especially large proportion of those suffering from eating disorders—both parents and peers should be alert to the signs and symptoms of the disorders and seek a better understanding of how they can stem from displaced and self-directed anger growing out of either past or present sexual victimization.