In this post, we will discuss intimacy anorexia and treatment options. This term is a bit misleading in that Anorexia nervosa is often life threatening and while serious, intimacy issues (including intimacy anorexia) are not life threatening.
The term “intimacy anorexia” was coined by psychologist Dr. Doug Weiss to explain the reasons why some people “actively withhold emotional, spiritual, and sexual intimacy” from a partner.
The 12-Step group Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous offers this definition and analogy:
“As an eating disorder, anorexia is defined as the compulsive avoidance of food. In the area of sex and love, anorexia has a similar definition: (intimacy) Anorexia is the compulsive avoidance of giving or receiving social, sexual, or emotional nourishment.”
What is Intimacy Anorexia?
So what is intimacy anorexia? Intimacy Anorexia is a relationship disorder that mostly occurs with a couple who are in a long-term relationship, such as a marriage. This relationship disorder is defined by the American Association for Sex Addiction Therapy as “The active withholding of emotional, spiritual and sexual intimacy from the spouse or partner.
Some doctors say intimacy anorexia may be the leading cause behind sexless marriages.
Characteristics of Intimacy Anorexia
Let’s explore some characteristics of intimacy anorexia. According to doctor Weiss, people with intimacy anorexia typically:
- Keep themselves busy with activities like work or household tasks
- Avoid showing their partner love in ways they know their partner appreciates
- Avoid giving compliments to their partner
- Treat their partner as if they are a roommate
- Criticize their partners to make them feel bad about themselves
- Ignore their partners, or stay angry at their partners for minor issues
- Show little or no interest in physical intimacy
- Avoid discussing their feelings with their partner
- Blame their partner for loss of intimacy rather than look inwardly
- Avoid connecting on a spiritual level
Sexual Anorexia vs Intimacy Anorexia vs Emotional Anorexia
While sexual anorexia, intimacy anorexia, and emotional anorexia are sometimes used interchangeably, there are some differences.
What is sexual anorexia? Sexual anorexia is a term focusing on the physical aspects of intimacy and is related to sexual interactions and the emotional connections associated. A person who has sexual anorexia is fearful of opening up emotionally to their partners beyond a superficial level. This fear can get to the point of causing anxiety and social phobias at the thought of getting close to others at an intimate level. This fear and anxiety often stems from social phobias related to being rejected or criticized.
Sexual anorexia is different from intimacy anorexia because sexual anorexia is related to a person’s fear and anxiety with intimacy. Intimacy anorexia is related to partners who want control of a relationship through limiting or stopping intimacy.
What is emotional anorexia? Emotional anorexia is a term that describes a person who avoids establishing and/or maintaining deep emotional connections beyond a significant other.
Emotional anorexia is different from intimacy anorexia because emotional anorexia is a thought pattern that affects all of a person’s relationships. Intimacy anorexia is a disorder that primarily affects only the individual’s intimate partner.
Suggested Causes of Intimacy Anorexia
There are 4 suggested causes of intimacy anorexia. These include:
Sexual trauma is the root of many addictions and mental disorders. This type of trauma can be extremely deep and cause damage for the entire being of its victim. Sexual trauma can cause a victim to feel the need for control.
The connection you developed with your primary caregiver can shape how you connect with others throughout your life. If your caregiver, such as your parent(s), ignored you or did not offer you the support you needed, it can affect your well-being. Issues such as intimacy anorexia may occur when a person affected feels the need to protect themselves from being vulnerable.
For individuals with a sexual addiction, they often get their needs met outside their relationship. This can cause a sexually addicted individual to stop seeking intimacy with their partner.
Role Modeling Neglect
A final suggested cause of intimacy anorexia is role model neglect. This happens when a young person’s role model leaves them to “figure life out” by themselves. This can cause a stunted emotional development and affect intimacy later in life.
While intimacy anorexia is not found in the DSM-5, some of the root causes such as sexual trauma or attachment issues are. The suggested treatment for intimacy anorexia according to AASAT can include: individual therapy, marital therapy, therapy for the partner, group therapy, and other educational groups.
Speak to a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in Miami, FL
Do you think you or your partner may have intimacy anorexia? There may be some underlying conditions you need help with.
I’m Dr. Amy Boyers, a Clinical Psychologist in Miami who specializes in eating disorder treatment (all types including anorexia treatment, bulimia treatment, and binge eating treatment) and other long term conditions, including addictions, bipolar disorder treatment, and OCD. I offer personalized and sophisticated eating disorder treatment services, individual and family psychotherapy, family member support and education, in-home meal support, cognitive behavioral therapy, anxiety treatment, depression treatment, and much more.
Have any questions about the eating disorder recovery process? I’d be happy to answer them. Simply reach out to me and I’ll be sure to answer anything you want to know.
I look forward to helping you obtain a brighter tomorrow.