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What is intimacy anorexia?

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

And why do so many men struggle with it.......

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Intimacy anorexia is a term used to describe a pattern of behavior in which one partner in a relationship emotionally withdraws and emotionally or physically avoids intimacy with their partner. This can include avoiding emotional or physical closeness, refusing to share feelings or thoughts, and failing to be emotionally or physically responsive to their partner. It can be a form of emotional abuse and can have a negative impact on the relationship and the emotional well-being of both partners.


What does intimacy normally look like?


The symptoms of intimacy anorexia can vary depending on the individual and the specific behaviors they exhibit, but some common symptoms include:

  • Emotional withdrawal: The individual may avoid expressing emotions, sharing thoughts or feelings, or being emotionally responsive to their partner.

  • Physical withdrawal: The individual may avoid physical touch, intimacy, or sexual contact with their partner.

  • Increased pornography use: One might swap healthy intimacy for compulsive, or less intimacy-based activities such as pornography use.

  • Secrecy: The individual may be secretive about their activities, thoughts, or feelings, and may be unwilling to share information with their partner.

  • Control: The individual may try to control the relationship by manipulating their partner, withholding affection, or making ultimatums.

  • Lack of trust: The individual may be distrustful of their partner and may not trust them with their emotions or personal information.

  • Avoiding commitment: The individual may avoid making a commitment to the relationship, or may make commitments that they do not keep.

  • Emotional or physical infidelity: The individual may engage in emotional or physical affairs outside of the relationship.

  • Roommates/Friend-zoning partner: Many individuals and partners report a shift in the dynamic that causes the relationship to appear more like friends than a romantic relationship.

It is important to note that not everyone who experiences some of these symptoms has intimacy anorexia, it is a complex pattern of behavior that should be evaluated by a mental health professional.


What are some of the causes of intimacy anorexia?


The specific causes of intimacy anorexia are not well understood, but it is believed to be a complex pattern of behavior that is influenced by a variety of factors. Some possible causes include:

  • Trauma or abuse: Past experiences of trauma or abuse, particularly in childhood, may make it difficult for an individual to trust others or to be emotionally or physically intimate.

  • Emotional regulation: Some individuals may struggle with emotional regulation, making it difficult for them to manage their emotions in a healthy way, which can lead to emotional withdrawal.

  • Attachment issues with parent of opposite sex: for many men, too much closeness (enmeshment) or distance (neglect) from a parent might lead to difficulty being close to a partner as an adult.

  • Fear of rejection or abandonment: An individual may fear rejection or abandonment and may withdraw emotionally or physically to protect themselves from the pain of rejection.

  • Low self-esteem: Low self-esteem can make it difficult for an individual to feel worthy of love and affection, which can lead to emotional withdrawal.

  • Difficulty with vulnerability: Some individuals may have difficulty being vulnerable, which can make it difficult to be emotionally or physically intimate.

It is important to note that there is not one specific cause of intimacy anorexia and it can be caused by a variety of factors, and it can also be a symptom of other underlying conditions such as Borderline Personality Disorder or Anxiety.


Can therapy help me with intimacy anorexia?


Treatment for intimacy anorexia typically involves therapy, which can help the individual address the underlying issues that are contributing to the behavior. Some specific forms of therapy that may be used include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This type of therapy can help the individual identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that are contributing to the problem.

  • Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT): This type of therapy focuses on helping the individual to understand and express their emotions and to improve emotional connection with their partner.

  • Couples therapy: This type of therapy can help the couple to improve communication, trust, and intimacy.

  • Trauma-focused therapy: If the individual has a history of trauma, this type of therapy can help them work through and overcome those experiences.

It is important that the therapist has an understanding of the specific problem and is trained in the treatment of intimacy anorexia. It is also important that both partners are willing to participate in therapy and work together to improve the relationship. Medication may also be used to treat underlying conditions such as anxiety or depression that may be contributing to the problem.


It is important to note that treatment for intimacy anorexia can be challenging, and it may take time for changes to occur. However, with the right support and treatment, it is possible to improve intimacy and emotional connection in the relationship.


Want to learn more?


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First Step Men's Therapy works with men across Ontario on a wide range of mental health issues, including healthy intimacy, sex addiction, porn addiction, grief, anger, anxiety, depression, trauma and PTSD, first responders, and men's issues. We work in all corners of the province including Thunder Bay, Toronto, Kingston, Ottawa, Windsor, St. Catherine's, London, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, Barrie, North Bay, Sudbury, Brampton, Mississauga, Oakville, and Burlington. We offer couples, individual, and group therapy options.




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