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Eating Disorders – Thin, Sexy, Perfect and… Frigid?

Eating Disorders – Thin, Sexy, Perfect and… Frigid?
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I studied eating disorders like a Ph.D. candidate, crossing back and forth from memoir to scholarly article, to magazine column and back again to autobiography. I put in hours of effort, memorizing passages and quotes, regurgitating information and ultimately learning everything there was to be learned about Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa.

  And then, light was shed

Now, over twenty years later, I know that it’s bull, really. Both eating disorders ultimately leave their sufferers with one common thing: shitty self-esteem of epic proportions, if they had any to start with.

Now, stereotypically, an anorexic might not engage in promiscuous sex because s/he feels that the site of her body is so disgusting, a sexual partner will turn her/him away. Since a lot of the condition has roots in self-control and people-pleasing, driving someone away while confirming their own unattractiveness is the last thing an anorexic might want; stereotypically, a bulimic might act promiscuously because it’s a natural part of her/his binge cycle, and as such, a way to find comfort and acceptance by another person—at least until after s/he is overfull and left desperately guilty.

Different methods and labels, same results and motivation. One eats and purges, the other starves and exercises, but both seek unconditional love and control over even their base needs, like nutrition and sexual fulfillment. But why does sex come into this, really? You have to look at it on a cellular level, too.

  Under the microscope

Both anorexics’ and bulimics’ lifestyles can lead to disaster in relation to sexuality.

In addition to a myriad of other complications including permanent kidney and heart damage, female anorexics and bulimics can cause themselves irreversible hormonal damage, often hinted at by missed periods (amenorrhea). Continuous amenorrhea leads to infertility. But one of the first signs of anorexia’s role on lady-parts is often drying up of vaginal secretions, leading directly to painful, uncomfortable sex. Personally, I’d avoid something that was painful and uncomfortable, too. And FYI, in men, anorexia can lead to impotence.

So, that’s why anorexics always seem so virginal: they’ve chemically programmed their bodies to avoid sex. Okay, so what about bulimics, then—the rumored promiscuity can’t be all smokescreen, can it? Maybe not.

Some female bulimics have been found to have a naturally occurring hormone imbalance, resulting in elevated levels of testosterone, and lower levels of estrogen than their peers [source]. Not only is testosterone responsible for regulating hunger, but also sex drive. So to carefully tiptoe on a limb here, it’s reasonable to assume elevated male hormones are at least a little responsible for the need to speed-eat and heightened libido. Combined with environmental factors - such as the often reported sexual abuse bulimics have been victim of—it’s pretty much the perfect recipe for bulimia’s binging and sexual activity.

But if you add a little sumpin’-sumpin’ into the mix, anorexics aren’t so clean-cut. Cocaine is a drug sometimes used for appetite suppression, in addition to the high and sense of control that anorexics (and bulimics) can achieve while under its influence [source]. Cocaine can also mask anorexia’s typical frigidness as it can produce sexual arousal and even compulsive sexuality as a side effect. So yes, a coked-out anorexic can be hot-to-trot. Alcohol is also often abused by bulimics, and most of us know that drinking can lead to a person in your bed that might not have otherwise been. Cue the bow-chicka-bow-bow soundtrack.

  Blame it on the media, why don’t you?

This wouldn’t be an article about eating disorders unless I brought up the media’s role on burgeoning psyches, and how the photographers, fashion designers, actors and models are all to blame, right?

It’s simple: Models are sexy and thin, therefore all women should be; actors are unwrinkled, cellulite-free and rippling with toned muscles, so everyone should be in optimal, ageless shape. Anyone who promotes or creates this imagery is the real creator of eating disorders. The fashion business is single-handedly responsible for most society’s assumption that twig-thin women are hot, causing women the width of two twigs or more to throw up their every meal.

Wrong. The wonderful thing about human society is freedom of choice. And we sure do exercise it in other mediums. Blaming an entire industry for any problem is a cop-out, especially in this case, when we can just put down the damned magazines. Or choose to acknowledge women (and men) of every shape and size to be equally attractive.

Curvy is romantically sexy to some; reed-thin and tall is delectable to others. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to, you know?

The people who choose to base their self-worth on imagery of who they should look like are, in my very damned opinionated opinion, covering up their fear that there’s nothing internal worth appreciation. I can say that with clear conscience, given that I was one of those thin, sexy, perfect, walking skeletons that felt utterly empty inside for more reasons than my lack of nutrients.

Now, I put down the magazine and think to myself, squishy tummy and all, I’d take a funny-as-hell man with a spare tire far sooner I’d consider a perfectly-chiseled Grecian god with a door stop for a brain. And I wouldn’t drop a pound from this body that I spent over 20 years abusing, because I saw what perfect gave me: damaged organs and fertility, emotional issues that have severely hampered my success in life at some points, and (back then) a complete misunderstanding as to what healthy sexuality was.

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Comments

This article reminds me so much of myself and a period of time in my past. I can't tell you how many books, autobiographies, studies, articles and research papers I have read on eating disorders. I find it is amazing how something that can happen almost on accident can consume a life.

05/18/2010
Eliza  

Props for gender-neutrality. I think most people think guys can't have eating disorders, and that only escalates the problem for them because they're less likely to be noticed by friends or family and/or offered help.

01/18/2011

i really don't like how this article views the thinner community; just because someone is thinner or more muscular doesn't mean that their dumber or abusing their bodies- it simply means they know how to care for their body. obvioulsy anorexia and bulimia are not the ways to do it, and if anything, those are super extreme ways to do it, but causing hate for body types that aren't chunky isn't going to solve your problems.

06/06/2011

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