2 min

Thin but limp

Eating disorders kill men's sex drive

SEXY BUT NO SEX. U of T fellow Ian Boulton was in absolute terror. Credit: Dean Tomlinson

Gay men are increasingly refusing to eat so they’ll look sexier – but then can’t get it up.

“Absolute sexual disfunction – that is one of the first things to go and one of the last things to come back,” says Dr Ian Boulton, a post-doctoral fellow at the University Of Toronto who recovered from anorexia five years ago.

He has informally counselled people with eating disorders for four years and says that one of the first things to go is the ability to perform.

“I’m not just talking about erectile disfunction – I’m talking about complete loss of libido and sexual functioning.”

Boulton says studies show that eating disorders are on the rise in the gay male community and attributes it to body image.

“At least in fairly recent times the androgenous boyish body type has been seen as desirable – possibly more desirable in the queer community than in the straight community,” Boulton says, “although even that is changing now. It’s the queering of the mainstream media which is introducing a degree of homoeroticism and body image awareness which has previously been largely absent in straight media.”

After being told by two physicians that men don’t get anorexia, Boulton spent a year in therapy to get over his. He says he felt “absolute terror,” and attributes his recovery to sheer willpower.

“The knowledge that there was life beyond anorexia and the sheer power of logic got me through it. Without that I wouldn’t be breathing today.”

Symptoms of anorexia (refusing to eat) and bulimia (throwing up what food you’ve eaten) include extreme weight loss, pallor of skin, dry skin and hair, cracked nails, acne, constipation, swelling of bodily extremities, coldness, downy hair growing on the body, extreme fatigue, and anxiety attacks.

Dr Miles Cohen, a psychiatrist who deals with eating disorders in gay men, also blames the community’s body image obsession with eating disorders.

“The more involved you are with the gay community, the more likely you are to be at risk for an eating disorder because of the pressure to gain acceptance from your peers and within your community,” says Cohen.

Cohen says that gay men and straight women are the most concerned with body image.

“Studies have shown that straight men and lesbians are not as preoccupied with their bodies as compared to gay men and straight women.”

Eight months ago, James Murray, the gay men’s community development co-ordinator at the AIDS Committee Of Toronto, began a support group for gay and bisexual men with eating disorders at ther support centre Sheena’s Place (87 Spadina Rd).

Murray himself struggled with anorexia and bulimia for six years and is now fully recovered. It began shortly after Murray came out at 20. He believes that eating disorders are related to sexuality.

“A lot of the men with eating disorders have a very conflicted relationship with the gay community and with gay men in general because there is such a pressure perceived that they have to be a certain way to be acceptable, to be desirable, to find a partner, to find love, to be sexually attractive.”