Image by the incredibly talented Stuart F Taylor
This week is eating disorders awareness week, aimed at highlighting the ways in which eating disorders can affect people’s lives, and raising funds for those who are affected by them. Be aware before you read on that this week’s guest blogger, Tempe, is here to talk about her personal experience with anorexia nervosa – explaining how the eating disorder affected her sex life. I’m really grateful to her for sharing her story here, and hopefully encouraging those who are struggling with similar issues to get support and help in tackling them.
Sex with Ana: How anorexia nervosa affected my sex life
If you think this is going to be a hot story about ‘girl-on-girl action’ then you’re going to be disappointed. In my narrative, Ana is not a sexy Russian spy, or a passionate Portuguese dancer. Instead, Ana is the name sometimes given to Anorexia Nervosa, an eating disorder characterised by significant restriction of food intake (sometimes accompanied by excessive exercise), often resulting in low weight with increased risk of physical health complications.
My eating had been disordered on and off from the age of 18, and then in my thirties a combination of life and crappy coping mechanisms finally tipped me over the edge into a full-blown, diagnosable, eating disorder. I received help, and I am pleased to say that I’ve been well for a while now. However, those years of restricting my calorie intake, while I slowly lost weight to an unhealthy extent, had a massive impact on my life at the time. I’m here to tell you a bit about how living with anorexia nervosa affected my sex life and sexuality. It’s vital to highlight that this is my personal experience, and I can’t claim to speak for anyone else. However, I’ve also spent enough time on eating disorder online forums to know that I’m not alone.
Firstly, it turns out that masturbation is really handy for coping with hunger pangs. When I was eating less than half the calories I should have been, I was almost permanently hungry, and that feeling was all-consuming at times. I also had no energy to do anything and I was depressed. So, lying in bed, vibrator between my legs, I would make myself cum over and over again, taking my mind off how damned hungry I was, even if just for a short while. If I fell asleep afterwards then that was a bonus. Sleep was a good way to avoid eating and escape the depression.
But it wasn’t just about distraction from hunger. I was horny. Really horny. My mind filled with the darkest of fantasies… being used by groups of unpleasant, unattractive men, forced to have sex with strangers in public toilets, brutal anal treatment. And, to be fair, I had these fantasies before I was ill, and I still enjoy them now. But the intensity of those fantasies, of being so thoroughly hurt and degraded, was magnified when I was continuously mistreating my body myself.
Despite being mentally horny, as I was losing weight it became more and more difficult to have sex, both physically and emotionally. Unsurprisingly perhaps, being depressed and hating how I looked meant that I found it hard to be intimate with someone. But the weight loss also made sex physically uncomfortable at times. Missionary position was OK, but anything else presented challenges. Being on my knees and fucked from behind could get painful due to the lack of flesh protecting my kneecaps. Going on top was difficult when I was lacking strength and energy, in addition to my sore knees. Lying on my side was awkward, with my hip bones digging into the bed, and my poor knees suffering again when one was laid on top of the other. Even blow jobs proved uncomfortable; my jaw was always aching from grinding my teeth through hunger.
Speaking of which, did you know that there’s 5 calories in semen?*
*According to a random internet source with zero credibility.
However, I had some unexpected added motivation for having sex. I vividly recall being on top, my initially eager bouncing slowly losing speed and enthusiasm as my energy waned. But then I realised – this kind of activity was brilliant exercise! I was losing calories and toning my thighs! Being a sex goddess while losing weight just felt like the ultimate goal. I started bouncing with renewed vigour.
I didn’t discuss these things with my therapist, though she had probably heard it all before. Indeed, when I started writing this, I hadn’t put together quite how many different ways my eating disorder affected my sexual life. For those of you reading this, the take-home message is that for individuals with an eating disorder it’s not as simple as ‘mental health difficulties = loss of libido’. For me, it’s a vivid reminder that however much I might sometimes miss the way she made me feel and the way she made me look, sex, and life, is so much better without Ana.
If you’ve been affected by anorexia nervosa, or other eating disorders, speak to your GP or get in touch with the UK charity Beat, which has advice on its website as well as a support line you may wish to call.
In the US, check out NEDA (the National Eating Disorder Association) and in Canada Nedic (the National Eating Disorder Information Center). For readers coming from Australia, a couple of people have recommended the Kids Helpline (which isn’t just limited to help for kids) as somewhere you may like to go to access support.