Hoo boy. Well, here goes nothing! My question is about sex. I'm currently in recovery and my boyfriend is nothing but supportive. He's one of those rare and special souls who puts up with a lot of crap and is still there by my side as a rock through everything. Unfortunately, it's coming up to our two year anniversary and we haven't slept together. It's not for lack of trying; my sex drive disappeared when I lost weight and now, despite being heavier and healthier, I still hasn't resurfaced.
Did you ever experience a loss of libido and, if so, does it ever come back?
Congratulations on your recovery so far! You've overcome an incredible amount and I hope you're as proud of yourself as you deserve to be.
Before we dive into the details I want to alleviate any pressure you might be putting on yourself right now to just go ahead and get it over with. Even if that pressure isn't coming from your partner, there can be a lot of guilt and self blame around not being able to satisfy their sexual needs. But it's not your fault that any of this happened to you, and you're not to blame for this being a consequence of it either. Sex is never owed in a relationship. And not being interested in sex right now doesn't make you any less of a caring, loving partner. Keep taking the time you need to work through this, and never pressure yourself to do anything you're not 100% comfortable with.
First things first, you are not alone in this experience. Loss of sex drive is a well documented consequence of eating disorders, particularly if your ED involves extreme weight loss which disrupts your hormone production. I won't go into that too much because, y'know, this isn't WebMD. But what I will say is that it can take longer than we expect for our bodies to recover from that kind of physical damage, even after weight restoration.
When I started recovery I thought my period would magically show up as soon as I weighed enough, but it actually took about 10 months of being weight restored before it did, and for other people it can take a lot longer. Since sex drive also has a lot to do with hormonal regulation, it makes sense that it takes a while for your body to get back in sync and allow that function. Which means that physically all you can do is continue nourishing your body, and be patient with it – it's doing the best it can to rebuild.
Then comes the mental and emotional side. Of course it's damn near impossible to view yourself as a sexual being when you've been so trapped in self-destruction. In order to feel your own sexuality you have to feel connected to your body, and you've just spent a long time trying to wipe your body out of existence pound by pound, punishing yourself, and denying yourself the most basic of bodily pleasures: nourishment.
So how do you heal from that? I think you start by getting back in touch with your own body and re-acquainting yourself with the sensations of living. And that includes believing that you are worthy of bodily pleasure. You deserve to find the taste of food exciting and pleasurable. You deserve to feel, really feel what it's like to touch and be touched, even in completely non-sexual ways. And practising getting back in touch with your body and its senses is the way to do that.
Spend time with your body. Exploring what it's like to be naked, to touch yourself with kindness and appreciation. Do more things that make you feel present in your own skin, whether that's listening to music that moves you emotionally (and letting it). Taking long baths and slowly moisturising your skin afterwards, appreciating how each part feels. Or making your eating experiences mindful, appreciating taste, not just eating to get it over with. And spending time in sensual activities with your partner without the expectation of sex. Depending on where you are you might be able to find a movement practice that focuses on reclaiming sexuality (check out @rashidakhanbey on Instagram!).
You might find that your sex drive doesn't go back to being exactly the same as it was before, and that's okay, everyone's experience is different. And if nothing is changing down the line it's worth considering getting in touch with a medical professional to check on the physical side that you aren't still experiencing any hormone imbalances. Most of all, keep being patient with yourself and focusing on finding the home within your body that your eating disorder tried to take away from you. Then maybe you can invite someone else in (wink wink).
Love & bopo,
P.S. If you like this column and want more advice like this, I wrote a whole book of it! You can find Body Positive Power here.