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Could ‘Intimacy Anorexia’ Be Ruining Your Sex Life?

If you've not been into having sex lately, it might be because you're dealing with intimacy anorexia without even knowing it.

Love & Relationships

Back when I wrote my first book, I coined a phrase called "sexual misuse". Being that I went through quite a bit of sexual trauma while growing up, I thought it was important to find a way to separate the difference between sexual abuse (what was done to me) and sexual misuse (poor decisions that I made on my own). That phrase came back to my mind a few days ago as I read a term I had personally never heard of before—intimacy anorexia.

Before I get into what that is and how it can both affect and infect a couple's sex life, let me first say that I know quite a few women—including Black women—who have dealt with the eating disorder anorexia (although reportedly, bulimia tends to be more common within our community). I don't want to make light of how that affects so many and so, for the record, I just want to share that one definition of anorexia is "loss of appetite"; what we're going to explore today is how a loss of an appetite for intimacy can ruin sex overall.

With that being said, if you're also not familiar with the phrase intimacy anorexia, let me take a moment to explain signs of this "disorder", along with what you can do to address it if you happen to recognize some of these signs in your own relationship.

How Can You Know If You or Your Partner Has Intimacy Anorexia?

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I gotta admit that when I did some research on who came up with this term and read some of the signs that are directly linked to intimacy anorexia, I immediately sent Dr. Douglas Weiss's site to a married couple I know. It's a husband and wife who has basically been in a sexless marriage for close to five years now (to be real, things weren't going all that well even before then). The reason why I thought the site would be helpful is because, two years before an affair (by the husband) transpired, there had still been no sex going on. And although I've shared with the wife that she might want to look into how that played a direct role in the infidelity, she still refuses to see it. To her, withholding sex isn't nearly as "bad" as infidelity. Meanwhile, I'm over here like, even the Bible says, "Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control." (I Corinthians 7:5—NKJV) Withholding sex deprives. Withholding sex tempts. Withholding sex ain't a good look—point, blank and period. A big part of the reason why is found in the word "withhold". Can anything healthy or beneficial be rooted in choosing to refrain from giving or granting sexual intimacy to your partner? Man.

The reason why I was so grateful to Dr. Weiss's breakdown is because it provides quite a bit of insight into how a couple can end up having sex less than 10-15 times a year (which is the textbook definition of what a sexless marriage is). According to him, this is how you know that you or your partner (if not both of you) are suffering from intimacy anorexia:

  • You're too busy to make time for your spouse
  • You constantly blame them for the problems in your relationship
  • You refuse to express love in the way that your partner needs it
  • You neglect to praise your partner so that they will feel respected and appreciated by you
  • You consciously withhold sex and/or intimacy during sex
  • You don't make it a point to spiritually connect with your partner
  • You do not express your feelings with your partner
  • You constantly criticize your partner
  • You use money to either shame or control your partner
  • Due to a lack of emotional bonding, you and your partner are basically like roommates

I must say that reviewing this list actually confirms what I once heard and totally believe—what goes on in a couple's bedroom sets the tone for what's happening in the rest of the house.

Because, think about it—if your partner doesn't make time for you, refuses to fluently speak your love language or is always on your back complaining about any and everything, why would you want to be sexual with them? And if they are treating you this way, doesn't it seem like they are sending not-so-cryptic messages that they don't want to be intimate with you either?

Now let me just say this, also for the record. If you just looked at the list of warning signs and thought to yourself, "well damn", don't write yourself off as having this disorder—one that the founder of it actually refers to as an addiction—just yet. For better or for worse, virtually all couples experience at least a couple of these red flags. According to Dr. Weiss, the way to know if it's full-blown intimacy anorexia or not is if you or your partner display five or more of these traits at the same time (you can confirm this by taking the only test here). If you do, that is somewhat of a cause for alarm.

The good news is knowing is half of the battle and there are things that you can do to start healing in this area.

Pinpoint What the Specific Issues Are. Then Discuss Them.

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There's another married couple I know who've been together for well over a decade now. The wife says that they pretty much only have sex when she initiates it and, her husband sucks at foreplay. During an impromptu session with them, when I asked the husband what the deal was, he said that his wife's constant yelling and berating totally turns him off. Meanwhile, she said that the selfishness that she felt in the bedroom seemed to be pretty indicative of how he is towards her, period. Do you see what's going on? His ego is bruised and she is resentful. Who's having good sex in that kind of space?

So yeah, if you do recognize that you or your partner are experiencing some of the flags that I shared, it's important to not only acknowledge that with one another, but to try and see where these issues derived from. Then, be open and patient enough to listen to what both of you think can—and should—be done in order to remedy the matters at hand.

See a Therapist/Counselor/Life Coach

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I watched T.I. and Tiny's Red Table Talk about their marriage. There is A LOT that I could say; for now, I'll just go with "good for them" when it comes to the fact that they went to counseling in order to save their union.

Personally, I don't think that married couples should wait until they're at the brink of divorce before they see someone. After all, it's one thing to get help when you smell smoke; it's another matter entirely to want someone to save your house when one-half of it is already burned to the ground. Yeah, I definitely believe that counseling should be treated like marital maintenance more than a last-ditch effort.

That said, once you and your partner have realized what the root of your intimacy anorexia is, sometimes that can make things worse, long before they start to become better. A professional can help the two of you navigate how to address your problems and also how to find real and lasting solutions. I know a lot of folks tend to give push back on counseling, but look at it this way—if you could handle things well on your own…they'd be handled. Right?

Work on Restoring Emotional Intimacy Before Revising Your Sex Life

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Did you notice how the list of signs that point to intimacy anorexia only mentioned sex once? Things like a lack of a spiritual connection, feeling like you're roommates with your partner and not taking ownership for your own actions have nothing to do with physical intimacy; what they do speak to is how much of a mental and emotional breakdown that there is, though.

If there's a "loss of appetite" for sex itself, spend some time getting back to the basics in the sense of restoring your intimacy via going on dates, being affectionate without being sexual, affirming your partner, being supportive and yes—making them feel loved in the way they need to feel it vs. the way you wish to receive it from them. If you don't know what that way is, ask. A lot of drama can be avoided in a relationship if we'd stop being so busy thinking that we know more about our partner than they know about themselves.

One of the reasons why I'm grateful for insights like this one is, I can't tell you how many couples have tried to convince me that sexless marriages aren't "that bad" or aren't a "big deal". If you are in a long-term committed relationship, you're physically capable of having sex but you're not having it is—it is a big deal. Sexual intimacy is not to be treated as a perk; it should be seen as a necessary staple. Thanks to terms like intimacy anorexia, hopefully more sexless relationships can get to the root cause of their situation so that sexual intimacy can be restored.

If you're just realizing that intimacy anorexia is what you and/or your partner suffer from, it's nothing to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. Now you know more of where your loss of appetite is coming from; now you can start on your journey to getting your groove back. Give thanks. A really good thing just happened—to you and your relationship. It really did.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

The Signs Of A Truly Intimate Relationship

This Is How To Feel Emotionally Safe In Your Relationship

10 Wonderful Reasons Why Consistent Sex In Marriage Is So Important

10 Things Couples Who (Consistently) Have Great Sex Do

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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This article is in partnership with Staples.

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