Sex and Recovery: When and How do I Become Intimate Again?

Despite not wanting to, I continued to have sex throughout anorexia, and throughout my recovery. I felt an odd sense of obligation to my partner(s) that only perpetuated the belief I held: my body is a sexual object, and this is how my body can receive some sense of validation. And so this led to many years of meaningless sex, and still not receiving any of the validation I was seeking. My sex drive was nearly non-existent, and it took far too much energy to have the sex that wasn’t even great to begin with.

Truth is? Towards the end of my weight restoration, and for the first time, I began to physically WANT to have sex. And yet at the same time, I wasn’t emotionally ready to let my body be seen in that way. Why was it so easy to let it be seen when I was struggling? Simply put: I was only acting physically. That part was easy. But when my mind and body started to connect? That was a whole new ball game that I wasn’t familiar with. And so emotionally, I was shutting down the idea that my body could be viewed as something sexual.

So when you find yourself on the road to healing and learning to accept the body you live within, incorporating sex back into your life isn’t always so easy. And like ANYTHING else in recovery, we don’t have to leap ahead to the finish line (or to third base).

How else can you be intimate?

Society, in general, tends to pair intimacy with sex itself. And yet this narrow view of what it means to be intimate ignores all of the OTHER ways that we can still emotionally and physically connect with our partner. Sex can feel vulnerable as it is; and then throw an eating disorder into the mix and that level of vulnerability can significantly increase. Often times when we struggle with an eating disorder, our bodies do not want to be touched. And if they ARE touched, we emotionally are very adept at numbing out any sensations.

So depending on where YOU are personally at in your recovery, sometimes jumping right back into sex isn’t even enjoyable or reasonable. Let’s break down intimacy a bit further. Intimacy can be defined in SO many different ways. What does it feel like to simply cuddle again? To have your bodies intertwined? Intimacy can range from neck kisses to holding hands to hugging and bringing one another close. It can also look like acting like silly 5 year olds and giggling and “playing” with one another. Even sitting physically CLOSE to one another is another way to connect that isn’t so invasive (literally).

Reminder: intimacy is individualized. Redefining the ways that we enjoy intimacy can take away the pressure that we MUST have sex the second our sex drive returns throughout recovery.

Getting intimate with yourself FIRST

For those of you who do NOT masturbate, this point in recovery might be a helpful time to at least try it out. How can we expect ourselves to feel comfortable with someone ELSE touching our bodies, if we haven’t even explored our own first? Masturbation tends to be a taboo topic: it’s personal, it’s vulnerable, and some might even feel embarrassed if they participate in it. THERE IS NO SHAME IN THIS FORM OF SELF-CARE.

When we’re able to please ourselves independently, we’re not only growing more familiar with our body and the way it works and feels, but also are becoming more self-aware of what we even ENJOY. Throughout an eating disorder and recovery, often times we do everything in our power to AVOID our bodies. To avoid feeling them, looking at them, and feeling ourselves fully exist within them. And so when we are in recovery, it can be extremely powerful to reconnect with our bodies. If touching your own body is uncomfortable, standing in front of a mirror is also a huge step in getting intimate with yourself.

Where do you feel sexiest?

Is it when you’re dancing with friends? Having an intellectual conversation with your partner over a glass of wine? Do more of THAT stuff first. If we’ve gone through a period of no sex or lacking sex drive, we may have also lost touch with what it even feels like to be intimate. When we do more of the “stuff” OUTSIDE of the bedroom that makes us feel sexy, it’s often easier to bring that boldness and sexual goddess-self INTO the bedroom.

This is where we can reconnect with ourselves and rebuild our own definition of “sexy.” And no, it doesn’t need to revolve around sex! Our partner can of course play a role in making us feel sexy in the moment, however it is not their full responsibility. Where and how do WE feel sexy, separate from when we’re in the bedroom?

And to conclude here: your mind and body WILL tell you when it’s ready to get intimate again. All you have to do is just listen and trust it.



Nicole works as a life and wellness coach through Nicole Leigh Coaching ( Nicole strives to empower women with similar struggles to redefine and re-identify themselves, separate from their eating disorder. Through her work, she empowers women to use balance in every aspect of life to maintain lifelong recovery. When Nicole isn't blogging or counseling, she loves spending her time traveling, eating burgers, and surrounding herself with positive people.