Thursday 12 May 2022

The unspoken havoc eating disorders play on sex: How to comfort your partner

Initial intimacy can be hard in any relationship, but this can be even worse for those suffering from eating disorders. Here's how to help make your partner's sexual experience comfortable if they struggle to shut out their mental illness during sex.

Eating disorders are complex and have several influences. Contrary to popular belief, they are not just caused by thinness as a beauty standard. The combination of eating disorders and anxiety together is prevalent. So it is more than likely someone you will sleep with will have body issues of some kind. These tips can be used for anyone with anxiety in the bedroom. 

Warning: This article is not speaking for all with an eating disorder. These are tips, but it is always best to ask the individual about their needs and boundaries as not everyone is the same. Seems obvious; nonetheless, we recommend sending this article to your partner and asking them what would help best. 

What does it feel like to have sex with an eating disorder?

Typically speaking, people with an eating disorder have a heightened negative perception of how others view their bodies due to how they see themselves. 

This means that the walls for an intimate relationship are likely to be firmly up for those struggling with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, other specified feeding and eating disorder, pica and rumination disorder.

VavaViolet Magazine's Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Sophie Blackman, who has bulimia nervosa, says the mental illness has limited her sex life and confidence in the sack since she was a teen.

"While I can't count across my hands how many people I've slept with during this provocative period we find ourselves in,  I can count on one hand how many have seen me naked and been able to make me feel comfortable enough to orgasm. I'd rather be set alight than turn the lights on with new people. My bulimia makes me hate my body. It taught me to see my body so negatively that a voice manifested suggesting that others think the same as I do. This often ruins sex."

Sophie continued: "So when the clothes come off, there's the voice. Telling me to put every item back on."

The 25-year-old Public Relations Expert describes the experience as "distracting" and "mortifying". 

"You think, or at least I and some others I've spoken to on this matter, that the voice in your head is authentic and is what your partner is thinking, but it's not reality, it's not what they're thinking, it's the illness speaking. However, by the point I've realised this during sex, I've already lost interest thanks to overthinking and self-esteem issues. 

"Basically, you can forget an orgasm. I'm too busy being embarrassed because I think the person I'm doing the deed with is not attracted. That and I'm distracted by the mean thoughts about myself.

"It's like bullying yourself mentally during sex." 

Eating disorders can also reduce libido and cause an individual to avoid sex altogether if it is too much of a trigger.

How do I help my partner feel more comfortable?

Remember that reassurance is essential, and affirming their attraction can be helpful. However, don't be disheartened if this doesn't solve the problem. It will likely take time, patience and a lot of kindness. 

Overcoming such disorders can't be done with a quick fix, so continued love and encouragement are steps to changing the narrative in their mind.

If someone lets you into their world and struggles, be mindful that this isn't about you but about their relationship with themselves and their disorder.

Another stressful part of eating disorders can come from dates and food-related activities. Culturally so many romantic gestures can be linked to food. The same can also be said for sex, from whip cream to licking up melted chocolate. Speaking about a person's specific needs before making assumptions about food activities is advisable.

Lastly, an important thing to consider is that opening up can be challenging for anyone with anxiety about their body. Telling someone you have had or have some kind of eating disorder is hard, especially with modern stereotypes. Negative past experiences and the element of self-doubt can all be factors why having a conversation on the topic may be tricky for your partner.

Nonetheless, they will likely appreciate your support. You can do this by creating a space where the person suffering can talk freely to you about their experiences so you can help them have a more comfortable sexual experience. 

Talking about it builds trust in relationships and brings physical and emotional closeness between many individuals.

Try to show genuine interest as this can help them to feel safe. You don't always have to have all the answers; just remember that listening and offering support is enough.

Even with support and therapy, there really is no quick fix to an eating disorder. All you can do for a partner is show as much support as possible and go at a pace that works for you both.

By Sophie Blackman


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