Intimacy Avoidance and Anorexia

Intimacy Avoidance and Intimacy Anorexia can be defined as not only being avoidant of emotional intimacy, but also feeling “turned off” both emotionally and physically from intimate connection. Intimacy Anorexia is an addiction to withholding. It is a way to protect and maintain control over emotional pain. Physical symptoms are nausea, tensed muscles, and panic attacks. One may also experience humiliation, shame, and low self-esteem for rejecting their partner.


spectrum of Intimacy

As with any condition, there are people who fall on either end of the spectrum –  sex addiction on the one hand and sex avoidance/anorexia on the other. Sex avoidance can come in the form of sexual anorexia, which happens when sex and intimacy are obsessively evaded in the same way those with food anorexia avoid food. In some cases, the person experiencing sexual anorexia may enjoy physical intimacy once it has been initiated, but may not be able to instigate sex. Or, they may take it a step further and turn down their spouse or partner’s desire for physical closeness more often than not. 


Intimacy Anorexia occurs because the primal part of the brain gets activated – particularly the flight/freeze action – and the person has little to no control once fully activated. This is due to a trauma response and has to be treated accordingly. The treatment then becomes two fold: (1) brain-based type therapies such as Brainspotting, EMDR, or Internal Family Systems (IFS) and (2) couples therapy where the person can slowly begin showing up with their full voice and from an emotional standpoint.