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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Disordered eating and sexuality in women Dunkley, Cara R.


Background: There has long been a proposed clinical link between sexuality and eating disorders; however, little empirical evidence exists regarding this relationship. The limited body of research on sexuality in eating disorders supports the occurrence of considerable sexual concerns. The aim of the present study was to expand on the dearth of empirical literature exploring altered sexuality in relation to disordered eating. Study 1 examines disordered eating in relation to sexual function and sexual insecurities. Study 2 examines the association between eating disorder symptoms in relation to genital pain and sexual distress. Study 3 examines the mediational role of personality and mood on the relation between eating pathology and genital pain. Methods: Undergraduate female UBC students completed a series of online questionnaires assessing eating habits, sexual functioning, sexual insecurities, personality, and mood. Two rounds of data collection were conducted, the first occurring from December of 2013 to April of 2014 (n = 321), the second between May of 2014 and April of 2015 (n = 854). Results: Several domains of sexual dysfunction were associated with disordered eating symptom severity, particularly genital pain and sexual distress. Mean differences in eating disorder symptoms emerged in women with clinically significant genital pain compared to those without pain, such that women in the genital pain group reported more eating pathology. Mean differences in genital pain, sexual distress, and sexual insecurities emerged among women categorized as being at elevated, typical, or low eating disorder risk, with those at greater risk reporting greater sexual difficulties. Sexual insecurity variables, as well as personality and characteristics common to individuals with eating disorder pathology, mediated the association between disordered eating and genital pain. Discussion: Sexuality is rarely considered in the context of eating disorder treatment unless a history of sexual abuse is present. The results of this study suggest that sexual functioning difficulties should be addressed during eating disorder care. Findings also indicate that women with eating disorders would benefit from treatments targeting sexual insecurities and personality gestures associated with eating pathology in addition to sexual function.

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