Q&A: Sexual Rejection And Eating Disorders

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QUESTION: I have developed a low-level eating disorder in response to being sexually rejected by someone. I had a fling with a guy who later expressed a great deal of confusion, guilt and shame over being sexually involved with me because we weren’t in a serious relationship. I am now afraid to eat anything that tastes good. I have gotten a strong emotional impression that it is a mistake to enjoy myself physically, that I don't deserve to feel physical pleasure and that if I do I will be unclean. Is this common? What can I do about it?

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I’m sorry to hear how hurt you’ve been feeling. Sexual rejection can feel sad, confusing and lonely.

Many women and men notice ties between their sexual experiences and their experiences of accepting love, affection or nourishment (even in the form of food). Sometimes these are very positive connections like being open to trying new things in love, life or at a restaurant, and other times the connections feel troubling.

Finding Support and Guidance

To deal with these troubling aspects, some people find the support and guidance they need through counseling; others work through their feelings through self-reflection, journaling, reading or talking with trusted friends or family members.

Scientifically speaking, we don’t know how many or how often people transfer their feelings about sexual or romantic intimacy to behaviors related to food or eating.

Recommended Reading

However, if you are interested in exploring related ideas, you might be interested in reading “The Good Body” by Eve Ensler as it explores issues related to women’s relationships with their bodies. The book and movie “Like Water for Chocolate” is another interesting artistic expression of the ways in which people deal with food, love and sexuality.

You absolutely do deserve to find pleasure and enjoyment in your eating and sexual experiences, and it’s a good start to know and feel in your heart that you deserve these things.

Because you believe in the pursuit of sexual pleasure, you might also enjoy reading “Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving” by Betty Dodson, or “For Yourself: The Fulfillment of Female Sexuality” by Lonnie Barbach.

Neither book is about food issues, but both are known for their positive perspective on women’s sexuality and the way that they acknowledge women’s experiences of pleasure with other emotional areas of their lives.

Dr. Debby Herbenick (M.P.H., Ph.D.)

is a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, Associate Director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University and author of several books including Sex Made Easy and Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction.
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