An examination of the relationship between disordered eating and sexual attitudes and behaviors in college women

Date

2012-08

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Abstract

Eating disorders are a significant problem many people deal with, especially women in their adolescent and young adult years. Those diagnosed with anorexia nervosa (AN) appear to be restrictive not only with food, but also with their sexual attitudes and behaviors as well. Those with the impulsive symptoms of bulimia nervosa (BN) - binge eating and purging - seem to be impulsive with their sexual attitudes and behaviors. A drawback in the research literature is that of studies with small sample sizes. A reason for this could be that full-blown eating disorders are relatively uncommon. Most individuals diagnosed with an eating disorder (50- 60%) do not meet full criteria, but are given a diagnosis of eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS). This is problematic given that most of the research is completed on those meeting full diagnostic criteria. The current study included 179 undergraduate females covering the full range of eating disorder symptomatology, from those who met full criteria for anorexia or bulimia nervosa to those who had no problems with food or eating. In addition, this study also examined the effects of moderating variables (e.g., depression) on the relationship between eating disorders and sexuality. It was hypothesized that the same relationships seen among those with severe eating pathology and sexuality would also exist in those who did not meet full criteria for an eating disorder (e.g., increased symptoms of dietary restriction would be positively related to increased levels of sexual restriction). None of the proposed hypotheses were confirmed. Despite the lack of significant findings, those with an increase in symptoms of BN were also more likely to endorse symptoms of depression and perfectionism. It is therefore still important to examine those who may not be meeting full criteria for an eating disorder as they may be suffering in ways that need to be addressed.

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Keywords

Anorexia nervosa, Bulimia, Sex

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