Eating Disorders - Eating disorders and sexuality

Eating disorders often develop around puberty, when the body is changing and maturing. This time of change can produce anxiety and confusion for both boys and girls because puberty is the beginning of sexual maturity. Girls develop breasts, start menstruating, grow taller, and develop more body hair. Boys' sexual organs (the penis and testicles) grow. Boys also grow taller, get more body and facial hair, and develop bigger muscles.

The sexual feelings that accompany puberty are new, and what they are feeling or experiencing may embarrass some young people. When someone is suffering from an eating disorder, issues surrounding sexuality can become even more complicated. Some people may seek out sexual relationships to feel close to someone and ease feelings of isolation. Others may avoid sexual relationships altogether because they feel ashamed of their bodies.

In some cases, an eating disorder is triggered by sexual abuse (when a person is forced to engage in sexual activities against his or her will). In these instances, an eating disorder sufferer is usually acting out in response to a painful event. She may gain or lose weight in an attempt to make herself sexually undesirable. She may avoid sexual relations as a way to take control over her body and prevent painful feelings from resurfacing. The anger and distrust felt toward the opposite sex may result in complete rejection of the opposite sex. On the other hand, some eating disorder sufferers may have many sexual partners in an attempt to erase the past and gain acceptance from the opposite sex.

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