Eating Disorders Blog: Physical Intimacy and Anorexia Nervosa

When a woman or man struggles with anorexia nervosa it can have a wide-range of effects on their romantic relationships. Many individuals diagnosed with anorexia are already in relationships, others might have the desire to start new relationships. But without proper treatment, an individual’s anorexia can make it difficult to establish intimacy.

How is Intimacy Defined?

Though “intimacy” is commonly used interchangeably with “sex” or “sexuality”, true intimacy also entails trust, understanding and the ability to be honest with one another. Anorexic behavior often involves secrecy which can prevent sufferers from engaging in harmonious relationships. Studies have shown that women suffering from anorexia valued non-sexual physical expressions over sexual ones when attempting to create intimacy with partners. The reasons cited were lack of desire and low self-esteem. In fact, a 1980s study showed that 70-80% of women with anorexia avoided sexual relations. Conversely, anorexia treatment has been shown to increase anorexic women’s sex drives after putting back on the lost weight.

Building Better Relationships

Research that has shown that anorexics and their partners often experience dissatisfaction with their relationships.  This is quite possibly due to the fact that individuals with anorexia often focus on their eating disorder at the expense of their relationship. The anorexic partner often becomes fearful of exposure and rejection. When the anorexic partner is engaged in behaviors that he or she views as secretive or shameful it can be a definite roadblock to establishing intimacy.

Though eating disorders can stand in the way of healthy, intimate relationships, hope is available. In an eating disorders treatment center, people with anorexia can not only focus on building healthy eating habits, they can also get relationship counseling to help build healthier relationships with their partners. If a patient with anorexia does not have a relationship, he or she can work toward achieving the mental and physical health that’s often needed to truly achieve intimacy.

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