Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sensual celibacy vs. sexual anorexia

Apart from the nagging fear that we’ll never have sex again (heaven forbid!), the one idea that has the power to unleash widespread panic in the celibacy community is “sexual anorexia.”

The term comes from anorexia nervosa, which of course is the absence or extreme loss of appetite and the resulting deathly weight loss and skeletal appearance.

Some researchers define sexual anorexia as the lack of sexual “appetite” or the extreme fear of sex. Another school of thought says that sexual anorexics may be able to have sex but without the intimacy. So they may indulge in pornography, paid sex, and strip clubs, but they can’t connect one-on-one. Tina Turner’s wail, “What’s love got to do with it?” might be the anthem of this type of sexual anorexic.

In my opinion, sexual anorexia is a misnomer or at the very least comparing apples (fear of sex/intimacy) to oranges (fear of food). The issues that create each of these disorders may be very different. I’m no expert in either of these fields, but even I can see how anorexia nervosa can lead to starvation and death while sexual anorexia does not. We can’t live without food. Contrary to popular belief, we can live without sex. The quality of life may be dimmed at times, but we can still function and even have joy and happiness in life.

Clearly, both anorexics – sexual and dietary – need clinical help. My concern is that those of us practicing celibacy are not mindlessly lumped into this group just because, like some sexual anorexics, we're not having sex.

Practicing celibacy, especially my sensual celibacy, is a choice, not a disorder. Compared to having casual sex with people you don’t even know, sensual celibacy will always be a wise, sane choice. I keep thinking about Matt Drudge’s screaming headline, “Sex in the city: 1 in 4 NYC adults has herpes.” In light of widespread STDs and broken hearts, sensual celibacy is still the best way to go when facing solo times.

To me, the difference between sensual celibacy and sexual anorexia is intent. As sexual beings having a celibate lifestyle (temporarily, hopefully!), we make the decision to table casual sex. Sexual anorexia is a disorder; sensual celibacy is a clearly thought out approach to managing our sexual behavior.

That said, I believe that the old-fashioned, judgmental, unforgiving, harsh style of celibacy can lead to sexual anorexia. If there's no spirituality or sensuality in your celibacy, you run the risk of detouring down some very dark alleys. Celibate beware!

Which is why I so strongly advocate the sensual approach. Never let go of your femininity (or masculinity). Get your 10 hugs every day. Stimulate your senses with the sights and sounds you love. Most importantly, maintain healthy, intimate, loving relationships.

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