Intimacy Anorexia and Sex Addicts

A significant number of sex addicts are not aware of how fearful they are about intimate relationships. They have most likely come from disengaged families in which they received inadequate or inappropriate bonding with adults. Without realizing it, they have assumed a way of life-based on fear and the avoidance of intimacy.

For many sex addicts, their addictive acting out behavior is a substitute for an intimate connection. Their addictive behavior (and its intensity) provides an illusion of some kind of intimacy. Of course, it is reinforced by sexual gratification in a situation that is believed to be “safe.” Sexual acting out is emotionally safe because it requires nothing in an emotional way from the addict.

While it may appear that the addict is selfish and seeks self-gratification, there is a much deeper root. For the addict and intimacy anorexic, the primary goal is finding an escape from negative emotions and achieving some gratification without having to experience deep pain and fear. Sometimes it is due to sexual inhibition and shame. Other times it is the fear of being vulnerable and that they will be hurt. Frequently it is a combination of the above.

7 Types of Intimacy Avoidance

The intimacy avoidance that goes along with sex addiction shows up in relationships in a number of ways. Dr. Douglas Weiss talks about 7 types of intimacy avoidance in his book Intimacy Anorexia.

1. Staying busy

Staying busy becomes a way to avoid relational time with their partner. Many addicts will deny they are doing this deliberately. In truth, they feel more confident in the work place. They also fear detection of hidden behaviors and so keep a distance.

2. Avoiding sex

Sexual bonding in an intimate relationship can be too difficult for an addict to do comfortably. They often keep an emotional distance, although they are attracted physically to their partner. The addict may also be emotionally absent during sex, lost in fantasy, orthey may avoid sex altogether. The spouse of the addict/intimacy anorexic feels more like a roommate than a lover.

3. Not being able and/or willing to express feelings and emotions

Many sex addicts withdraw emotionally by not letting the other person in on what they feel, need or want. This is a dread of being unworthy or of being rejected or hurt. A significant goal for the addict in recovery is learning to express feelings with their spouse and others.

For many sex addicts, their addictive acting out behavior is a substitute for an intimate connection.

4. Blaming the other person

Often addicts will not take responsibility for their wrongdoing or shortcomings. Criticism comes in a couple of forms. One form of criticism is spoken with words. It is pointing out the negative parts of one’s partner. It is an intentional maneuver to push the spouse away. Many spouses talk about the unspoken criticism they feel from their partner.

5. Withholding spiritually

This is a common characteristic among sex addicts and intimacy anorexics. Some may be very active in their church and even have a leadership role. However, they are quite different at home. They will rarely, if ever, pray with their spouse or have a devotional time.

6. Withholding love

Withholding love is one of the toughest aspects of intimacy anorexic. There are different ways that people feel loved—helps or service, praise, touch, quality time, i.e. The partner may have told the addict for years what they want, but they withhold and the partner feels unloved and alone.

7. Isolation and loneliness

The same addict who is doing everything to avoid intimacy will often feel terribly needy and lonely. Sometimes the addict is aware of a longing for connection; other times the addict lives without intimate connection but doesn’t quite know what is missing. Isolation and loneliness can then become the excuse for sexual acting out such as pornography, sexual massage parlors, online sex, or more.

It takes the help offered in recovery for the addict to recognize his or her lack of intimacy capacity. Then, they can begin to initiate new behaviors to overcome their fears of intimacy and connection. There is hope, but it takes real commitment to change.

man walking by himself because of loneliness from intimacy anorexia

8 thoughts on “Intimacy Anorexia and Sex Addicts”

  1. Sir,
    Interesting article . . . but doesn’t seem to fit my experience where I am the one with an addiction to pornography and my wife seems to be the one who doesn’t desire or require emotional or sexual intimacy and who (from my perspective) is withholding love while I’m actively fighting my addiction and desperately trying to pursue God’s holy design for our sexuality.
    In HIS Strength,

    1. Hi Jeremiah,

      Thanks for your e-mail. Your story is a familiar. I will pray
      for you and your marriage. Blessings.

    2. Jeremiah – I would be very careful in assuming your wife doesn’t desire or require emotional or sexual intimacy. Chances are, your wife feels emotionally distant from you in large part because of your addiction. Porn addiction/sex addiction creates space between a couple in and of itself. It interferes with intimacy (from what I’ve learned), because one who uses porn/prostitutes in chatrooms, etc., is acting out of self-centeredness in order to get their emotional/sexual needs met. In acting out, they are not showing love toward their partner and they are not thinking about the consequences of their actions on those they love (their spouse, children). In not having sex with your wife, she is also not getting the benefit of experiencing the chemical high that women who are sexually active do – that, in turn, fuels her desire to have more sex with you. You need to realize that sexual addiction is your problem and you would be wise not to blame your wife, but to seek counseling from a professional counselor licensed in sex addiction. You need to learn about yourself, including aspects of your childhood that probably contributed to your use of pornography and your addiction to it.

    3. That is called reactive intimacy Anorexia, where she fears intimacy with you because she is s victim of betrayal trauma due to your sexual acting out and is very common.

  2. Dear John,

    This article has helped me immensely. I recently parted ways with my long term boyfriend of almost 3 years. He was planning to propose in September and we were going to be married in December. I truly believe God rescued me from this relationship as I was becoming to codependent on this person and him to me. Even though I also feel God had his reasons for me to have entered it. I often wonder if he knew he had an addiction or if he is still seeking the reasons for his actions…..the porn, dating sites, and random hook-ups. In our relationship he tried to find faults to avoid becoming intimate. He avoided intimacy/sex through several means. It has been very difficult to feel that he loved me or was attracted to me when he deprived me of so much. It’s even harder to cope with knowing I knew of several of his indisgressions yet I stayed. I was unaware of what he was going through until God opened my eyes in some very unique ways to show me truth and once he did I saw all of our relationship printed in black and white in several articles about sex addiction and now in this arrival of Anorexia. Had I known sooner I often wonder if we could have made it with help. He always said he loved me, he truly loved me, mind body and spirit but there was something missing. There was an element missing. What was missing? I asked. I assumed it was my physical appearance which he had made comments on quite often but always told me how attractive I was and if he were not attracted then he would not be with me. I assumed he did not love me romantically. Truth is…it is very possible he loved me as much as he was capable of. He was incapable of the love we needed for what ever reasons he has…… fear of commitment, fear of abandonment, fear of being alone, or whatever the case may be. I have to accept that he could not fully love me. The same day we parted ways was the same day he went on a date and began a new relationship with another person who is very similar to me. It hurts me to think I was so easily replaced and that our relationship meant nothing to him. I love him still. It’s like having this great party or fun event and being the only one left to clean up afterwards. As you clean up you start to see what all happened during the party, you see all the truth and evidence of what was. Does he see or know? Does he see the damage he has caused? Does he hurt over it? There is no remorse there it seems and there seems to be almost a smirk. It’s so hard not to run straight to him with copies upon copies of printed materials to show him that this hole he has, this something missing is something that only he and God can fill. I pray that one day he will see, he will discover these things and allow himself to heal properly with the right help. He is an a great person he truly is a good man he is just simply addicted. My road to recovery will be long I know. But I will recover. It breaks my heart that there is a possibility that he never will. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge as this too has been a part of my healing.

  3. Oh God, after 10 years of relationship and 7 years of marriage, I just found out that my husband never been faithful to me from day one. I am emotionally and physically broken! I have never been happy with him because he would not even allow me to have conversation about our intimacy problems. He showed me zero love or compassion even when I was really sick and could not move , he accused me of faking it.finally yesterday, a marriage counselor told me that he is an sex addict which explains a lot of his behavior. I don’t know what to do to help him.

  4. I am in the Uk & 3 years into a new relationship we live together & the first 18 months were great romantic & normal sexual connection etc he also got used to some affection from my family because we are very affectionate. I just thought he was the strong silent type and a bit quiet but after 20 months I stumbled on his google search history quite by accident on his galaxy tablet this showed he was obsessed with porn which I was really upset about because he had been withholding intimacy at that point for about 7 months saying it could be down to being off work at the time he then did nothing to acknowledge or validate me or my feelings only pass blame or berate I’ve researched porn & it’s affects I’ve also looked up emotional disconnection and withholding, things are fine between us until the moment you question the situation then there are arguments and aggression I feel like a housemate before me I know he used casual dating sites a lot & he denied or played dumb when asked about people I found on his social media prior to that a few failed short lived relationships . When we met I was astounded at what his two children were like very quiet withdrawn would put their earplugs in when we collected them not a word etc then spent the weekend in their rooms all very backwards to me then one stopped coming all together because she was asked to speak and say Hi and an outburst happened. I’ve know his issues are down to his childhood he was adopted then the adoptive parents put him in boarding school he was taught he didn’t need anyone from being 7 he was also berated by them and there was little affection, I feel his own children have issues because of him but he is in total denial about all and any of the above mentioned & all you get is silence denial lies or aggression when trying to address any of this .. Reading your article has helped tie all of this together because you wouldn’t think that a porn obsessive person would be also portray or have sex anorexic but it’s helped me to piece the two together .. I’m on the verge of wanting to leave for my own wellbeing as I think he isn’t willing to change nor even admit he’s the problem he is in denial .. what’s your suggestion or advice he is very stubborn impatient abrupt has some narcissistic ways there is no affection it’s got less and less he avoids all emotional physical contact and says no wonder cos it’s me that argues with him yet I wasn’t this person in the first 18 months he only shifts the blame and furthers the rift ..

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