The relationship of psychosexual factors and eating disorders

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The research presented here is an exploratory investigation of the potential role of psychosexual factors in the development of the eating disorders anorexia and bulimia. The study sample involved 41 female eating disordered patients (16 anorexics and 25 bulimics), diagnosed using the DSM-III-R criteria. These patients were recruited from The Eating Disorders Program at St. Albans Psychiatric Hospital in Radford, Virginia. Five hypotheses were tested concerning the following psychosexual factors: sexual knowledge and attitudes; sexual experience and functioning; sex roles; gender identity (sexual orientation); and history of sexual abuse or incest. The hypotheses postulated that the psychosexual factors would exist or be perceived by eating disordered patients as significantly different than would be statistically expected according to available normative data. The instrumentation for measuring these factors included the Derogatis Sexual Functioning Inventory, the Bern Sex Role Inventory, and the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid. Compared to normative data, significant results were found in the total sample for all psychosexual factors except Sexual Knowledge and Gender Identity. However, no significant differences were found between the anorexic and bulimic subsamples. These results are discussed along with their implications for therapy and research.