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Anorexia: Sexual, Social, Emotional

S.L.A.A. defines anorexia as the "compulsive avoidance of giving or receiving social, sexual, or emotional nourishment."

We may not have had sex or been in a close relationship in years. Or we may be the kind who do not have intimate friendships. Some of us have never known social joy, or honest intimacy, or emotional reciprocity. Many anorectics are repeatedly drawn to unavailable people.

As anorectics, we are full of fear and sexual self-doubt (e.g. fear of intimacy, fear of engulfment, fear of our own sexuality). This fear often hides behind our addictive and deprivation behaviors. Sexual promiscuity, for instance, may actually hide an avoidance of intimacy. Pornography, voyeurism, masturbation, etc. are also seen as avoidance strategies, since they encourage isolation.

For info from the SLAA Conference Anorexia Committee on sexual anorexia, go to:


Whether our anorexia is social, sexual, or emotional, we awaken to the fact that we are not experiencing the giving and receiving of love. We may have tried to change our conduct. If we could not change it, we may have come to understand we are addicted to it. But we now want nourishing emotional, sexual, and social lives.

Our anorexia may have come out of a sense of our own preservation, but still we want to change; we have begun the work of recovery and change in S.L.A.A. We have found that, no matter how different or alone we feel, that reaching out to others to give help and to ask for it helps us to recover from anorexia. Many of us have begun to experience new and awakened lives. We have seen the miraculous removal of ancient blocks and previously unquestioned habits. We have found social communion, relationship, marriage, closeness, and friendship.

Source: "Anorexia: Sexual, Social, Emotional." SLAA Pamphlet ©1992 The Augustine Fellowship, S.L.A.A., Fellowship-Wide Services, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Characteristics of Sexual Anorexia

(Developed by S.L.A.A. members during a women’s retreat. Not S.L.A.A. conference-approved)

(Adapted from the S.L.A.A. Characteristics of Sex and Love Addiction ©1990 The Augustine Fellowship, S.L.A.A., Fellowship-Wide Services, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

1. Having few healthy boundaries, we become sexually repulsed by and/or emotionally threatened by people without knowing them.

2. Fearing intimacy and vulnerability, we avoid closeness with others, concealing our dependency needs from ourselves and others, growing more isolated and alienated from friends and loved ones, ourselves and God.

3. Fearing emotional and/or sexual nurturing, we compulsively avoid and stay away from romantic and sexual relationships, sometimes going for years at a time without participating in dating or sustained relationships.

4. We over-idealize love and sex or conversely confuse love and sex with physical and sexual abuse, shame, immorality, engulfment, enmeshment, pity and/or the need to rescue or be rescued.

5. We retreat into the safety by being alone. Even if we long for intimacy and commitment, we continually avoid relationships and sexual contacts.

6. We are deeply anxious and insecure but may cover feelings of stress, guilt, loneliness, anger, fear and envy with a persona of independence and self-sufficiency. We may use self-reliance, martyrdom and/or deprivation as substitutes for nurturing, care and support.

7. We judge others and or project that others judge us. We employ distancing strategies and build emotional walls. We withhold love and sex to feel in control and/or to control and manipulate others.

8. We may substitute intimate relationships with romantic or sexual fantasies and may use pornography, adult bookstores, strip clubs, compulsive masturbation, anonymous sex and/or prostitutes to feed this fantasy world.

9. We avoid responsibility for ourselves by focusing on others, denying our own feelings, wants and needs and being emotionally unavailable in relationships.

10. We stay enslaved to isolation.

11. We may mask our fears of authentic connection and sexuality by involving ourselves in addictive romantic and sexual relationships with unavailable people.

12. We assign magical qualities to others. We idealize and fear them, then resent them for the power they hold over us.


Links to S.L.A.A. core documents on Sexual Anorexia:

What is Anorexia in S.L.A.A.? (pdf):

Am I Anorexic? 50 Questions for Self-Diagnosis (pdf):