How to Revel in Sex While Living With an Eating Disorder
Sex can make anyone self-conscious at times. Men may worry about stamina, size or performance. Whereas women tend to question how their body looks in the nude, if their moans of delight sound pleasing or perhaps if their partner deems them “good enough” in bed. A lot of fears can rise to the surface when it comes to foreplay, intercourse and physical intimacy in general.
I am 29 years old and struggle with anorexia nervosa, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and generalized anxiety. The ordinary concerns one may experience when engaging in sex with someone new (or a lover they’re not fully comfortable with yet) are unfortunately intensified for me. It takes a fair amount of exertion to clear my mind of the endless thoughts of self-hatred related to my physical self. I do acknowledge my self-consciousness stems exclusively from my “eating disorder brain,” not my logical one. Yet it is challenging to differentiate between the two when caught up in the heat of the moment. To give you an idea of what gallops through my mind during my sexual encounters, here are a few notions that come to mind:
“Is my tongue synchronizing flawlessly with his?”
“What if my vagina is visually unappealing and unsatisfying when it comes to taste? I know I showered, but still…”
“Why must we do this position? The loose, excess skin on my belly is particularly prominent when I’m leaning forward.”
“Am I actually pleasing him or is he pretending to be satisfied to uplift my spirits?”
“Do I look fat at this angle?”
These are merely some examples, but you get the gist. I am severely underweight, which I know based on the number my scale reads each time I hesitantly step on. Yet I have this delusion that I’m large in body size — thanks for that body dysmorphia! What’s ironic is I find both men and women of larger body types attractive. However, when it comes to myself, I loathe what I see when I look into the mirror.
For those unfamiliar, the DSM-5 (a diagnostic and statistical manual that assists doctors and mental health professionals in properly diagnosing patients) classifies body dysmorphic disorder as having appearance preoccupations. The individual must be preoccupied with one or more nonexistent or slight defects or flaws in their physical appearance. Anorexia nervosa consists of symptoms such as the intense fear or gaining weight or becoming fat, disturbance in the way one’s body weight or shape is experienced and restriction of energy intake (food), which can lead to a severely low body weight and unhealthy BMI.
I was officially diagnosed with BDD as a young teenager, but the disorder itself precedes the actual diagnosis. My anorexia did not develop until my mid-20s. I’ve had bouts of recovery, but this current episode began in April 2019. Upon reaching a low number on the scale, I knew I needed help from professionals. I’ve now been under the care of a therapist and a registered dietitian (who specializes in eating disorders) for three months. I’ve acquired a lot of knowledge, but five mantras in specific have helped me immensely.
1. Food is fuel.
2. My body is simply housing for my soul.
3. When I am uncomfortably full and bloated, I know logically that hunger will return.
4. My worth has no relation to my appearance.
5. Anorexia nervosa has a higher mortality rate than any other psychiatric illness. It carries four times the risk of death compared to depression.
Now that you know a tad more about me, I’d like to dive right into the nitty gritty. While I was unable to orgasm in the past as a result of my sexual fears, I am presently able to embrace the euphoria of sexual satisfaction with my partner. Ascertaining the skills that guided me in relishing love-making was no picnic. It required hard work, healthy coping strategies and a patient significant other. In my personal experience, I found three methods that strongly influenced me in what I once considered to be impossible:
Yoga is profoundly medicinal for me. An ongoing study in the Netherlands has proven through MRI brain scans that yoga and meditation can shrink the right amygdala (hemisphere), which is the part of our brain that produces negative emotions and fear-inducing stimuli.
I attend yoga classes at a local studio four to seven times weekly. Like so much in life, consistency is key. My yogic journey has taught me to accept where I am at emotionally and physically at every single moment. I learned to engage less in competition, such as, “is she better than me” or “is she skinnier than me?” One of my anorexic behaviors is comparing myself to others. I am not judgmental of others, only myself. People I pass in stores, celebrities on TV — the incessant need to be the skinniest is frustrating and frankly, sick.
The art of yoga isn’t about who is “better” or “worse,” as us human beings are all equal. I’ve seen women of all shapes and sizes do headstands and advanced poses such as flying lizard, which I’m presently incapable of. They look beautifully graceful. Some days my balance is better than others, and some days my left side is tighter than my right, preventing me from entering certain asanas (poses). Life is similar to that. Some days I am more cheerful whereas other days I am more melancholic. One week my enthusiasm to fight anorexia is fierce, while other weeks my eating disorder brain tells me I must keep restricting my calorie intake. Life is like a roller coaster of ups and downs. Yoga boosted my confidence and has gradually helped me to accept my body.
I can’t say I approve of it fully, but I am easily 60 percent more content with my physical appearance now. Since my sex life was rocky predominantly due to my body image issues, yoga played a therapeutic role in allowing me to crave sexual activity with my partner again.
One year a go I began attending weekly therapy sessions with a licensed social worker. I quickly brought to her attention that having sex was complicated for me. I explained how the thoughts that ran rampant through my head prevented me from climaxing. I told her I perceived myself to be unattractive; I believed my body was hideous. It was difficult for me to comprehend that no one else views me like this. In fact, both friends and strangers alike often tell me I am beautiful.
My therapist patiently listened to my feelings of worthlessness week after week. One day she said something that helped me more than I initially thought it would. Three simple, life-changing words: “feelings aren’t facts.” I found it cliché and unhelpful at first. Days went by and I kept recalling that concise phrase. I realized it can be that easy. Feelings truly aren’t facts. All my fears were just that… fears. Nothing more, nothing less. In essence, just because I feel a certain way about myself does not mean it is accurate. Those three words helped me to challenge my negative thinking, which in turn improved my sex life.
3. Sticky Notes Around My Home
My dietitian suggested I make a list of all of my positive characteristics and write them each down on individual Post-it notes. Her idea was to adhere each Post-it onto mirrors scattered throughout my house. In doing so, I would inevitably read these encouraging words several times a day while brushing my teeth or applying makeup. The hope was the more I read these words, I’d begin to gradually believe them.
Each day I would sit with a pen and a pad of yellow sticky notes, striving to come up with traits I admire in myself. If I failed to think of anything, I’d jot down something I one day yearned to love about who I am as a person. Three months later, I have sticky notes dispersed everywhere. I truly have began to believe I am worthy, lovable, attractive, sexually desirable and deserving. The more I love myself, the easier it is to immerse myself into sexual ventures.
These three tools have helped me to revel in romance and sex. I can now initiate amorous make-out sessions with ease. I almost always orgasm while my boyfriend goes down on me. Most importantly, my mind-frame is healthy during the hours of passion my lover and I generate (several times a week!)
Having sex is the closest two human beings can be to one another — both physically and emotionally. Intercourse is a mutual connection of the mind, body and soul. I hope those reading this gain insight that may help them to engage in sex without their own fears cluttering their mind. Remember, feelings are not facts and many of our fears are illogical.
Getty image by IuriiSokolov