Let's talk about sex

One of the ugliest moments in the down-the-rabbit-hole experience of having a child diagnosed with an eating disorder is the realization that you - until that moment a normal parent - are automatically now under suspicion of having either sexually abused your child or of having let that happen.

I was present the moment my husband first heard that connection. I remember when I first realized that was on the mind of the clinicians we consulted. I really can't think of a more disabling position for a parent seeking help.

So I approach this topic with trepidation. And I read reports of research, Childhood Sexual Abuse Linked With Bulimia Later in Life, with care.

Take-home points: no connection between anorexia and sexual abuse. And in the case of bulimic behaviors we need to be very careful about retrospective self-reports, wide definitions of abuse, and wide definitions of bulimic behaviors. But no matter how you slice it, the baseline of one in five young women reporting sexual abuse is beyond heartbreaking.

And regardless of whether adult trespass can trigger bulimic behaviors, or if people with a predisposition for bulimia are at special risk for interpreting behaviors as abuse -- "1 in 2" is crushingly, horribly sad.


  1. Funny,

    When I was diagnosed with AN there was no mention of sexual abuse -- yes it was in the repetoire of usual questions, but if it didn't happen it wasn't pressed. And God knows, my parents were NEVER accused of sexual abuse.

    When you say "old school" therapy I sometimes forget how old school you mean. We have our disagreements (ex. underlying causes of eating disorders, influence of genetic component) but I agree with you that refeeding always comes first. Most professionals (at least in Canada) also agree.

    Just funny, because I would have thought and ED professional would know that a diverse amount of factors influence ED's -- and that blaming the parents does not help.

    I may not agree with all of your points, Laura, but I agree here.


  2. I don't know how common it is for clinicians to actually say this to a parent. But I can tell you that nearly 100% of parents hear that connection somewhere along the line (in the media or a book or from a clinician) and for the PARENT it changes everything.

    I know when we asked our daughter's first therapist - after she fired us - why she never talked about food through nine weeks of talk therapy and failing health her answer was that she was trying to establish trust so that our daughter could tell her whether she'd been abused and by whom.

  3. I have a problem with this: "...if people with a predisposition for bulimia are at special risk for interpreting behaviors as abuse..." because it sounds like you're basically calling into question reports of abuse by people with bulimia BECAUSE they're bulimic. And though I doubt that's your intent, I find the implication both offensive and dangerous.

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  5. The article and the research cited in the post!


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