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‘I couldn't orgasm until I recovered from my eating disorder’

eating disorder orgasm
‘Recovering from anorexia, I could finally orgasm’Maskot - Getty Images

Everything was different. I didn't push him away, denying myself pleasure like I had done in so many parts of my life. I wasn't reaching to turn the lights off and I didn't undress under the covers. I was in my body, not my head. As I came in the bedroom of my London flatshare I felt like my life was going from black and white to colour.

Age 27, this was the first climax I enjoyed with a partner since the onset of the various eating disorders which had plagued my life since my early teens, including binge eating and anorexia. The diseases kept me numb from feeling everything – emotionally and physically.

To be able to ride the waves of pleasure, then, felt like getting my life back.

Unwanted attention

From the moment I turned thirteen, my body attracted unwanted commentary and attention. Boys and older men began to ogle me and I suddenly felt my physicality go from being mine to being something others felt they had ownership of. For me, that meant that enjoyable sexual encounters were off the table.

If you're dealing with an eating disorder, contact Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, on 0808 801 0677 or beateatingdisorders.org.uk

Age 16, I began binge eating, which I now see was a coping mechanism to deal with sexual abuse I had encountered earlier in my life, as well as undiagnosed ADHD. Deep in the grip of disease, I couldn't shower with the lights on or moisturise my stomach, let alone enjoy a sexual encounter enough to orgasm. Things escalated until, age 21, I had eventually gained 40kg.

At this point, I wanted to hide away from the world and didn't date – or have sex – at all. When I hit 25 anorexia kicked in: the end result of the food restriction I'd embark on after a binge. I was walking 40,000 steps a day and waking up at 5am to do weights each morning while eating minimal calories and taking laxatives.

Even though anorexia was ruling my life, I was still trying to act like everything was ok, working a full-time job and going on dates. Sharing dinner with a potential love interest would ruin my week, though, due to my fear around food, and I'd never stay over because I wanted to get back where I could control everything as quickly as possible.

I had a few boyfriends, but not one knew about my illness. I fought hard to hide the truth – trying to act ‘normal’ at meals, pretending I'd eaten loads earlier that day and just wasn't that hungry – scared they'd run a mile if they found out. Sex became something to get through, spent imagining what they were thinking about my body, not something to inhabit and enjoy.

Road to recovery

Eventually, the pain of my disorder took me to a place of suicidal ideation. The fear I felt around this prompted a wake-up call and, scared for my life, I used the private healthcare I could access through my office job to check into rehab for three months at age 27. It was there that I began working with an eating disorder recovery dietician (an amazing woman named Elle Kelly) and a psychologist, where my recovery began.

As well as slowly coaxing me into eating enough to nourish my body and untangling the root cause of my issues with food – the aforementioned past sexual abuse and undiagnosed ADHD – the professionals helped me to reconnect with my physical self. After checking out and getting back to work, my life began again.

The key insight I gleaned from the experts was that eating disorders are all about control, isolation and shame – three ingredients that are anathema to orgasm. It helped me to understand that not being able to let go in the bedroom meant I had a problem, not that I was the problem.

My experience is common. Having a distorted relationship with sex is a hallmark of eating disorders, explains Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Fiona Dunn-Lowes. ‘Research shows women with eating disorders exhibit impaired physiological, behavioural and emotional sexual functioning, increased sexual anxiety and body dissatisfaction,’ she says.

‘In addition, either fewer sexual experiences or impulsive sexual encounters and less functional relationships are often reported by women with eating disorders.’ Some women may also experience ‘decreased vaginal lubrication and libido, lower frequency of masturbation as well as higher incidents of vaginismus.’

Time to change

After beginning this process – and finally looking after myself for the first time in over a decade – my shame, slowly, began to dissipate. I hit a healthy weight and my relationship with myself changed alongside my relationship with food. I saw my body as something beautiful, separate from how it looked, and food as a source of joy, pleasure and nourishment.

It started with little things like cooking for myself and keeping my flat Marie Kondo-level clean. Then, something shifted. I was honestly sexually drawn to myself before I was anybody else. I felt like a teenager, discovering who I was and what I liked. Often this looked like masturbating a lot.

After five months I felt ready to date and have sex again. In a seismic change of mindset, when swiping on dating apps and eyeing up people in bars, I stopped thinking, ‘I hope they like me’, and started thinking ‘I hope I like them.’ In fact, I didn't want a relationship; I just wanted to explore my body as a single woman.

So, how might others in that strange, post-recovery space start to re-connect with their sexuality? ‘It's about getting to a place where you can focus on bodily sensations without being critical. The best sex happens when you're not thinking about anything at all. Eating disorders are often about control, and an orgasm is about letting go of control,’ says Kate Moyle, a Psychosexual Therapist and author of The Science of Sex.

When I began the journey of recovery, there was no way I could have gone hell for leather, sex-wise. I had to work my way up from getting comfortable with my body to exploring my desires with others. Moyle suggests this slow build-up is wise. ‘Get comfortable with sensation and welcome in feeling without setting goals for yourself. It's so easy to get stuck as goals can create pressure and associated anxiety.’

I'm now two years into recovery and would never have imagined I'd be in this place. I finally know my worth and recognise it has nothing to do with my appearance. I feel so fortunate to have recovered my health.

As far as my sex life is concerned, I'd give it a strong 10/10. My body has been through so much, and my God, it deserves pleasure. I'm still discovering the full extent of who I am and making up for lost time – inside and outside the bedroom. I feel powerful, proud, and present in all areas of my life.

Writing about my struggles and sexuality is the biggest love letter I could possibly give to the version of me that almost gave up, before I went to rehab. There's so much I want to say to people still suffering, but the main thing is: you're not alone.

No matter how stuck you may feel, there's light at the end of the darkness. And, like me, you can get your life back, too.


If you need help with your or someone else's eating disorder

  • Get in touch with your GP an explain what's going on, so you can be referred for specialist help

  • Contact Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, on 0808 801 0677 or beateatingdisorders.org.uk

  • Get in touch with eating disorder support service Seed on 01482 718130 or seedeatingdisorders.org.uk

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