Jun 19th 2023
Sexual anorexia, also known as sexual aversion disorder, is a term used to describe the aversion to, avoidance, or fear of any sexual activity. The treatment for sexual anorexia may vary depending on the underlying cause of the condition and severity of symptoms, but typically involves therapeutic intervention and desensitization.
Sexual anorexia is another frequently used term for the condition known as sexual aversion disorder, and is characterized by an extreme aversion, avoidance, or fear of any type of sexual activity or intimacy .
Sexual aversion disorder was included in the previous version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-IV , but has since been removed due to a lack of clarity and evidence around diagnostic criteria, so is no longer an official diagnosis according to the DSM-5 .
Some argue that, due to the fearful and anxious aspects of the disorder, it may be more closely related to anxiety disorders, or more specifically to phobias, than to sexual disorders. Although the presentation may vary depending on the individual’s symptoms and the cause of their behaviors .
The reason that sexual anorexia is a commonly used term for this condition is because it shares many similarities with anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder in which people compulsively restrict food intake due to a fear of weight gain. Both disorders share symptoms of compulsive avoidance and obsessive abstinence .
Sexual anorexia, or sexual aversion disorder, may cause varying symptoms depending on the individual, their history, and the cause of the disorder. Commonly, symptoms of sexual anorexia include :
The exact cause of sexual anorexia is not known and may vary from person to person but is often caused by one or more contributing factors.
Many people with symptoms of sexual anorexia have a history of abuse, particularly sexual abuse, but also physical or emotional. Their abuse history is likely to contribute to the development of the condition, due to extreme distress around the idea of or engagement in sexual activity .
A family history of substance abuse or sex addiction can contribute to the development of sexual anorexia, as growing up in an environment of addictive, obsessive, or sexual behaviors can lead to an aversion to these behaviors.
Similarly, having a family member with addictive behaviors may cause parents to be strict and rigid with their children in the aim to prevent these behaviors, thus potentially contributing to avoidant behaviors or sexual aversion .
People who have a history of sex addiction may develop an aversion to sexual activity in response to negative feelings surrounding their past behaviors or as an attempt to correct harmful attitudes. Similarly, they may engage in a type of binge-purge behavior, similar to that of bulimia or anorexia, engaging in excessive sexual activity followed by abstinence, as a compulsion or fear response .
Various medical or hormonal conditions as well as certain types of medications can cause sexual dysfunction and decreased sexual arousal, which could contribute to the development of fear related to sexual activity. This fear can potentially lead to an avoidance or aversion .
Many people with sexual anorexia also meet criteria for diagnoses of other mental health conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), substance use disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, or eating disorders. This may indicate that these conditions could increase the risk of or exacerbate symptoms of sexual anorexia .
Sexual aversion disorder is no longer an official diagnosis in the DSM-5 . However, sexual anorexia and sexual aversion disorder are terms still discussed and explored in psychological and scientific research, so an individual could be given an unofficial diagnosis .
If you are experiencing symptoms of sexual anorexia that are having a negative impact on your quality of life, it may be necessary to seek professional advice. Although a licensed professional can’t make a diagnosis of sexual anorexia, they could make a referral to a specialist who can complete an assessment and provide appropriate advice and treatment .
Professionals will likely ask questions relating to your symptoms and experiences. These questions will ascertain the severity and duration of your symptoms, how they are affecting your life, and the distress they cause you. The professional may utilize the diagnostic criteria for sexual aversion disorder from the DSM-IV to help gather information to complete their assessment, which include :
Sexual anorexia is not an official diagnosis and it may be caused by several different factors, so treatment may vary depending on each individual’s symptoms.
Various types of talk therapy may be useful in treating sexual anorexia, such as interpersonal psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Both therapeutic interventions can help individuals explore the underlying causes of their sexual aversion.
Therapy can also help treat emotional distress, assist in learning new emotional and behavioral responses, and increase distress tolerance. All of which can help individuals to develop healthier thoughts and behaviors around sex and intimacy .
Sex therapy is a specialized type of therapy aimed at helping to improve sexual relationships and attitudes. Sex therapy is tailored to the specific experiences, attitudes, and behaviors of the individual or couple’s sexual problems. Therefore, it could be a good option for treating sexual aversion disorder .
The therapist can help to individuals discover and treat causes of their condition, including any psychological and physical reasons behind certain behaviors and thoughts. The therapist can also teach individuals ways to better manage their symptoms. Management may involve systematic exposure and desensitization to sexual activity with specific exercises for the individual or couple to utilize .
In some cases, medication may be prescribed to treat the underlying causes of the condition, such as anti-anxiety medications. However, many medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), an antidepressant that is commonly used to treat anxiety, are known to decrease sexual desire and function, so would be unhelpful in treating sexual anorexia .
Sexual addiction is characterized by the inability to control sexual desires and engaging in excessive sexual behaviors, which can cause harm and distress to the individual and others. In contrast, sexual anorexia causes directly opposing symptoms, such as entirely avoiding and being fearful of sexual behaviors, but it may still cause distress to the individual and others .
Some people with sexual anorexia may also have a history of sex addiction, with sexual anorexia occurring consequently. In addition, individuals with sexual aversions may experience several sexual disorders or may experience just one of these conditions without the presence of another sexual disorder .
Libido can be decreased due to several factors aside from sexual anorexia. Medication, hormones, physical and mental health conditions, and personal preferences can all affect libido .
Low libido may be a symptom of sexual anorexia, as some people with the condition experience no physical or psychological desire for sexual intimacy. However, many with sexual anorexia do experience sexual desire and arousal but feel an aversion to sexual activity, thus preventing them from engaging in these behaviors .
As such, low libido and sexual anorexia may be linked in some instances but are not the same.
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