Hey Peter et al.,
I wasn't very familiar with it either but after seeing this post there are some good books out there including Sexual Anorexia: Overcoming Sexual Self-Hatred
which seems to be well written and quite detailed.
I've been thinking of myself as having an aversion to sex and having a disconnect between my emotional, physical, and sexual selves. Feeling sexually engaged is possible as is an erection (morning wood still visits me), but in the presence of a partner it seems so... remote. The authors, Carnes and Moriarty, lay out some very clear factors and attributes for this:
Sexual Anorexia is defined by a set of characteristics that sufferers typically experience:
- A pattern of resistance to anything sexual
- Continuing that pattern of avoidance, even though they may know it’s self-destructive (ie: harm a marriage, prevent relationships)
- Going to great lengths to avoid sexual contact or attention
- Rigid or judgmental attitudes toward sexuality—their own, and others
- Resistance and avoidance of deeper, more painful life issues
- Extreme shame and self-loathing about their bodies, sexual attributes and experiences
- Obsessing about sex and how to avoid it, to a point where it interferes with normal living
- Possible episodes of sexual bingeing or periods of sexual compulsivity
I don't really have many of these attributes, but when you read more about the background elements there is definitely some connection here for me. I've bolded and turned red
the two I think resonate somewhat. The pattern of avoidance was certainly me, as well as avoiding sexual contact, and attention but many of the others don't resonate with me. I don't feel I'm that attractive or desirable, but I don't experience "extreme shame" about it either.
There is a distinction here, though, between those with low libido who may be showing some of these because they have a low sex drive. From Joe Cort's web site
"For the most part, people with low sexual drives are not avoiding sex; they are unable to activate their libido, no matter how hard they try. They simply have no interest, because their desire has been squelched or is non-existent. They may be avoiding a partner who wants sex more than they do, but they are also trying to avoid having to face a low sexual desire."
There are definitely some things that do line up though...
"The sexual anorexic’s primary goal is to find ways not to combine intimacy with sex. Both men and women can suffer from this disorder, and most keep silent about it. They initially feel out-of-sorts and don’t speak openly about their apathy for fear of being judged negatively in today’s society, which values sexual behavior so very highly.
Other symptoms of sexual anorexia can include: a desire to control one’s body, sexuality and environments; terror and high anxiety of being sexual or appearing sexual in any way; and anger and self-hatred. Negative associations about sexuality are usually formed by some sexual trauma or abuse—possibly incest by a family member such as a mother or father, sibling, grandparent, aunt or uncle. It could be sexual abuse by an older neighborhood boy or girl, a clergyman, teacher, or anyone older who imposes their adult sexuality on the child, leaving them feeling terrified, powerless, angry and often blaming themselves—and contributing to their own self-hatred.
Children should not be exposed to any form of sexual contact for many reasons, one of which is that they are not ready, physically or developmentally, to handle it. In adulthood, many trauma survivors become sexually anorexic or sexually addicted. But neither disorder is really about sex: it arises from the initial loss of control over what happened to them as children. Adult sexuality imposed on a child impedes the child’s own sexual development, so they either act out (in sexual addiction) or acts in (becomes sexually anorexic). This helps them feel that they are protecting themselves from further sexual betrayal and sexual insult.
It feels like I took the "acting-in" route. This isn't something I have seen other male survivors talking about in much detail, but I suspect this is the area where most of my recovery work needs to happen. There is more that aligns with my experience:
Also, as Carnes’s research demonstrates, many sexual anorexics come from rigid homes with very judgmental parents who condemn sex in highly negative terms
. In many cases, one of the parents is punitive with their children on sexual issues. Both parents are authoritative, closed to new ideas and demonstrate little or no affection. Children must measure up to their parents’ expectations, without being able to negotiate the rules. They’re forced to withdraw inside themselves to find affection and love on their own. Suddenly, their world begins to feel unsafe. As Carnes points out, this leads the child to adopt four core beliefs:
- I am basically bad and unworthy.
- No one would love me if they really knew me.
- The world is dangerous.
- If I have to depend on others, my needs are never going to be met.
This, I believe, is why men and women drift into the “ex-gay” movement and decide to suppress their homosexual urges. Reading Dr. Carnes’s book explains why someone with a gay sexual and romantic orientation would go to great lengths to fight their natural sexual urges.
The two strongest reactions I get are in bold red
above. These have felt very true to me. Feeling I wouldn't be loved if I was really known is receding somewhat for me. There is so much of me out there I guess I have to be okay with where I am. The sense that the world and sex is dangerous still feels very present and true to me. I think coming of age and grappling with being gay in the 80s with the terror and mystery of AIDs everywhere (I lived in Sydney and worked in retail so I knew, although not closely, many men who died in the initial wave) amplified this, and this only became compounded when I began seriously grappling with the sexual abuse in the late 80s and early 90s.
To your point Shelatowie, the authors also go into some detail about how sexual addiction and sexual anorexia are two sides of a the same coin, have some similar dynamics, and how sufferers can move from one to the other for periods of time. From what you describe it would be worth taking a read to see how this fits for you. This discussion has opened up a new line of thought and feeling for me, so thanks for opening the issue up guys. Now I need to go and hunt down this book and do some more work here.