Uncovering My Sexuality In Eating Disorder Recovery
Where does one begin with sexuality? Particularly if you’ve suffered from an eating disorder, sexuality can feel like an alien topic and one that is easier avoided. I myself have found it awkward and difficult to discuss but I want to open up the conversation and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
I’ve always felt naive and ignorant about sex; maybe as a result of it not being discussed much among my family, or feeling slightly traumatised by those awkward conversations with my parents about using contraception and staying “safe”. However, as I continue my journey towards eating disorder recovery, it’s begun to take up a growing proportion of my thoughts and headspace. My issues with sex also came to a front when my relationship ended last summer during lockdown. It wasn’t that sex was the reason for the breakup, but I’m sure it was a significant factor. I’d been struggling with sex for a while. I was never “in the mood”, would be suffering from a sore or uncomfortable stomach, or felt “too tired” - these were just some of the excuses that I would come up with time and time again. Of course to my partner, these felt like a rejection and I felt like a failure that I wasn’t able to satisfy his needs. I would occasionally muster up the courage to go ahead with it but it was only ever uncomfortable and I began to resent it, as well as him. I would plead with my body to want to feel some desire, but I couldn’t force it. Quite simply, desire cannot be forced or controlled because it is a hard-wired emotional and physiological response, yet I still felt ashamed, thought I was “weird” and willed myself to feel differently.
I know that my low weight has been a contributing factor to my low libido but it’s scary not knowing how, when or if I’ll feel any sort of sexual desire again. I know that in the past I have enjoyed pleasurable moments and I know that when I have the right level of hormones pacing around my body, as well as regular periods, these feelings will return. The issue is that I haven’t found it a particularly motivating factor for my recovery. However, as friends around me have begun to think about moving in with their other halves, buying houses together and getting engaged, I have, at times, felt very alone, compounded of course by the national lockdown. I’m not desperate to find a new relationship but I do feel those societal pressures - I’m heading towards 30 faster than I can think and don’t want to be left behind. Nevertheless, I’m determined not to let those pressures get to me, and I feel that I have so much life left to live before I settle down.
As the grip of my eating disorder continues to loosen, I’m excited about what the future holds and the possibilities of what I can achieve. I also know that before I dive head first into another relationship, there’s a lot of work I need to do for myself. After all, how can you let someone else love you, caress you, even touch you, if you feel uncomfortable in your own skin and can’t bare to look at your naked body?
As I begun to think about dating again last autumn, I knew I needed to do the work around my sexuality. I went to my therapy sessions demanding to know how I could fix this. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t uncover many immediate answers. However, as I have begun to open up that conversation with my therapist and therefore with myself, there’s a lot I’m learning already. I’m trying to get better at practising self compassion, taking time to explore my body and learn what works/doesn’t work for it. Only when you have a greater relationship with yourself can you begin to think about sharing it with someone else and we must therefore invest the time in building that relationship. It’s a journey I’m currently on and while my body continues to change in shape and size which brings with it its own anxieties and discomforts, I know that as my body heals, so too will my sexuality.