Sexual Health Q&A

Female Sexual Health Male Sexual Health Sexual Dysfunction
What is sexual anorexia?

In general, a person with sexual anorexia compulsively avoids sexual situations and intimate relationships.

The term sexual anorexia was first used in 1997 by Dr. Patrick Carnes, a psychologist and sex addiction expert. The condition has not been widely studied in a clinical sense, and as of July 2018, it is not officially recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) published by the American Psychological Association. However, it has received growing attention from mental health professionals over the years. 

Sexual anorexia is sometimes compared to anorexia nervosa, in which a person deprives himself or herself of food and nourishment. Instead of food deprivation, sexual anorexia involves sex deprivation.

Sexual anorexia is sometimes discussed in the context of sex addiction, too. A sex addict may “act out” and obsessively seek out sexual situations. In contrast, a sexual anorexic tends to “act in” and avoid those situations.

Both men and women can develop sexual anorexia.

Symptoms of sexual anorexia may include the following:

  • Avoidance of dating relationships, isolation
  • Avoidance of anything related to sex, may include self-destructive behaviors
  • Fear of sexual contact
  • Feeling ashamed about sexual experiences
  • Fear of sexually transmitted-infections
  • Poor body image
  • Feelings of sexual inadequacy
  • Obsession with others’ sexual behaviors

Some people with sexual anorexia go through “binge” periods, in which they do seek out and have sex. But typically, they do not form emotional relationships with their sexual partners.

Sexual anorexia is thought to stem from past traumas that can make intimate relationships feel unsafe, such as sexual or physical abuse, emotional neglect, or betrayal. Sexual shaming, humiliation, and violations of boundaries can be contributing factors as well.

A person’s cultural or religious background may also play a role, especially if that background includes negative attitudes about sex.

Sexual anorexics may have other mental health issues, like anxiety, food addiction, substance addictions, and obsessions.

People who feel afraid of sex, intimacy, and relationships are encouraged to see a doctor, counselor, or sex therapist. For more information, please see these links:

What are sex therapists? What do they do?
How does one find a sex therapist?
What happens during sex therapy? 


Page, Danielle
“Everything You Need To Know About Sexual Anorexia”

CommonHealth (WBUR)

Zimmerman, Rachel
“Understanding Sexual Anorexia”
(December 9, 2011)

Frost, Caroline, MA, MFTI and Alexandra Katehakis, MFT, CSAT
“Understanding Sexual Anorexia”
(November 2, 2010)

The Hippocratic Post

McDermott, Noel
“The rise of sexual anorexia”
(June 4, 2018)

Psychology Today

Katehakis, Alexandra, Ph.D., MFT
“The Devastating Pain of 'Sexual Anorexics' ... and what they have in common with sex addicts”
(August 12, 2014)

Everett, Jenny
“Do You Have Sexual Anorexia?”
(October 11, 2010)

Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous

“Does Anorexia Tie in to Your Sex and Love Addiction? If So, How? Responses To a Questionnaire”

Hartney, Elizabeth, PhD
“What You Should Know About Sexual Anorexia”
(June 14, 2018)

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