Sexual Anxiety and Eating Disorders

Sexual Anxiety and Eating DisordersA wide range of critical psychological functions are controlled by a system of chemical signals and responses in the central nervous system, including the following:

  • Impulse control
  • Emotional response
  • Sexual attraction
  • Memory formation
  • Appetite and eating
  • Anxiety and stress response
  • Coping with trauma

Complications related to one area of this system can cause repercussions throughout it, resulting in seemingly unrelated symptoms. A person who is emotionally abused may have memory problems. A person who has survived a trauma may lose his or her appetite or may lash out at loved ones. Many women who have survived sex-related abuse, such as rape, long-term sexual harassment, incest or exposure to sexually explicit materials, will experience symptoms that are seemingly unrelated to the trauma they experienced. One of the most common of these experiences is the onset of various eating disorders, including binge eating, self-starving (anorexia) or forced vomiting (bulimia).

Understanding Eating Disorders

Tiny but powerful chemical signals motivate people to eat and tell the brain when a person has eaten. When this system functions properly, it sends hunger signals when it is time to eat and triggers the pleasure center of the brain while a person is eating something he or she enjoys. Similarly, feelings of satisfaction or fullness follow a good meal and cause a person to relax.

Sexual arousal and actual sexual activity function in much the same way as appetite and eating. Sexual desire leads to a connection with another person, feelings of intimacy and trust and eventually the act of sex itself. Certain chemicals are released during and after sex that create relational bonding between people and feelings of comfort and safety.

When a person experiences sexual trauma, however, this system can be severely disrupted. Survival instincts, including “fight-or-flight,” and responses that help to manage pain flood the brain with panic chemicals like adrenaline. While this system can, in fact, help a person to survive the traumatic event without experiencing an emotional nervous breakdown, the results can be devastating once the trauma has passed. Post-traumatic stress disorder can lead to flashbacks that cause paralyzing anxiety, as well as the following potential symptoms:

  • An inability to feel sexually attracted to or safe with anyone
  • Significant self-esteem deficiencies and body-image problems
  • Nightmares
  • Feelings of a loss of control or identity
  • Anger management problems
  • Impulse control disorder

The desire to feel control or to self-medicate feelings of pain, loneliness, fear or anxiety can cause a person to either eat too much or not at all. If left untreated, these symptoms almost always get much worse and may lead to major depression, self-harm or substance abuse.

Treating Sexual Anxiety and Eating Disorders Effectively

The key to successfully treating eating disorders caused by sexual anxiety is to receive comprehensive and holistic emotional, physical and psychological care. While short-term anxiety or depression issues may be treated with medication, long-term treatment involves various kinds of counseling and therapy. Through this process, patients are allowed to properly experience the emotions they have blocked from their trauma. Over time they can find new, healthy ways to express themselves and to relate to those around them.

Anxiety and Addiction Help

Our toll-free helpline is open 24 hours a day with confidential advice, answers to your questions and access to the most effective treatment programs available. For some people, outpatient treatment will be effective while an inpatient or residential program will be needed for others. We can help you determine the best plan for your particular situation. Call now.