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Journal published by the Hellenic
Psychiatric Association


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Women suffering from eating disorders, present considerable retardation and difficulties in their psychosexual development during adolescence. This leads to primary or secondary insufficiencies in their adult sexual life. The cause of these difficulties seems to be a series of biological, family and psychosocial factors. The majority of the research findings indicate that eating disorders have a negative impact on the patient’s sexual function. The factors related to eating disorders symptomatology that influence sexuality are various and differ among each eating disorder diagnostic categories. Considering anorexia nervosa, it has been reported that women have negative attitudes to sexual issues and their body. Their sexual motivation increases when they engage in psychotherapy and their body weight is gradually restored. Starvation and its consequences on the human physiology and especially on the brain function seem to be the main factor that leads to reduced sexual desire and scarce sexual activity. Moreover, personality traits that are common in patients suffering from anorexia nervosa such as compulsivity and rigidity are also related with difficulties initiating and retaining romantic and sexual relationships. Usually patients suffering from anorexia nervosa report impaired sexual behavior and lack of interest to engage in a sexual relationship. Considering Bulimia Nervosa, impulsivity and difficulties in emotion regulation that are common features of the individuals that suffer from bulimia nervosa are also related to impulsive and sometimes self-harming sexual behaviors. Moreover women sufferers often report repulsion, anger and shame towards their body and weight, mainly due to the distorted perception that they are fat and ugly. It is interesting that a number of research findings indicate that although patients suffering from bulimia nervosa are more sexually active and have more sexual experiences than patients suffering from anorexia nervosa, both groups of patients report more often than general population a lack of satisfaction from their sexual experiences. Other factors that are common to eating disorders and sexual dysfunction are personality traits, negative body-image, adverse childhood experiences, negative family climate and especially early traumatic experiences such as sexual abuse. Furthermore, comorbidity of eating disorders with depression may have a negative impact on the patient’s sexual function. The treatment and improvement of sexual behavior is quite problematic when the patient is also suffering from an eating disorder. Eating Disorder patients are often very reluctant to discuss their sexual life with the therapist and to engage in any kind of therapeutic intervention. Comorbidity with a number of other disorders makes psychotherapy even more difficult for those patients. Furthermore, a considerable percentage of Anorexia Nervosa patients do not have any kind of sexual activity, at least until nutrition and weight are restored.

Key words: Eating disorders, sexuality, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa. 

V. Kravvariti, Fr. Gonidakis (page 136) - Full article (Greek)