Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Borderline Personality Disorder and Sexual Avoidance

Borderlines are sex fiends. All day, every day it’s all we think about, right? Hah. Wrong.

Reckless sex and promiscuity are often a problem for those of us with BPD. It’s something we actually get a lot of attention for. But that’s only one side of it. The more sensational side. I think it’s because of that sensationalism that we get such a bad rap, because there’s a whole different side that doesn't get much attention at all.

You need to remember; Borderline Personality Disorder is a complex combination of nature and nurture. Unfortunately where that nurture is lacking, it’s often replaced my abuse. Sexual abuse can be exceptionally detrimental and will of course, affect how we approach sex in our adult lives. Not only that, but we are also often deeply, deeply self-conscious, stricken with a variety of eating disorders, dysmorphic body image issues and spend an inordinate amount of time perfecting our outward appearance… all to gain some semblance of control where control was taken away from us.

According to Dr. Zanari in the paper, Sexual Attitudes and Activities in Women with Borderline Personality Disorder Involved in Romantic Relationships written by Sebastien Bouchard, Natacha Godbout, “ rates of childhood sexual abuse in the [Borderline Personality Disorder] population can range from 60%-80%”. Can you even imagine the effect that early childhood sexual abuse would have have on a child? Let alone how it would bleed through and contribute to BPD in adulthood.

Insecure attachment is closely associated with sexual motives and feelings.  It’s not a surprise that those of us with BPD have an insecure attachment style laced with fear, abandonment, and distrust. It’s almost impossible to imagine that these issues wouldn’t be influenced by this kind of anxious attachment style.

Conclusions in general suggest that people with BPD tend to have signi´Čücant problems with regard to intimate and sexual relationships. These problems seem to be related to heightened sexual impulsivity, reduced sexual satisfaction, in-creased sexual boredom, greater preoccupation with sex, avoidance of sex, and a wide range of sexual complaints (Dulit, Fyer, Miller, Sacks, & Frances,1993; Hull et al., 1993; Hurlbert, Apt, & White, 1992; Stone, 1985; Zanarini et al., 2003; Zubenko, George, Soloff, & Schultz, 1987)

So while, yes, we can often display more permissiveness, it’s also not uncommon for there to be a complete aversion to sexual intimacy as well. For example, in a 2003 study, Dr. Mary Zanarini and colleagues found that people with BPD reported avoidance of sex for fear of experiencing an exacerbation of their BPD symptoms. Not to mention re-living or having flashbacks of the original abuse.

When you’re eating disordered, have a dysmorphic body image, and low self-esteem you tend to be very vulnerable when it comes to your physical appearance. If you’re like me you don’t show this, everyone thinks you love how you look, but inside you “know” what a mess your appearance is. Being uncomfortable in your own skin, by yourself, is one thing. Being uncomfortable in your own skin, with someone else, who you feel is potentially judging you? That you don’t feel like you’re “perfect” with. I can’t tell you the number of times I HAD to avoid going out in public because I was too anxious to function due to how I felt about my appearance. Just go out in public. Not get naked and exposed in front of another person.

“Though it hasn't been studied, there is a sense among doctors that many patients tend to be attractive, which can trigger a vicious cycle,” says Peter Freed, assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, who specializes in BPD. “Being beautiful induces the world to treat you like an object, which naturally gives rise to questions about whether you are loveable, which in turn makes you long for confirmation."

This in turn complicates their intense sexual allure, which is ultimately a kind of survival mechanism. "The intensity of erotic passion can sweep you away, but the motive is double-edged," writes California-based therapist Roger Melton. "One side of it comes from the instinctually built-in, turbulent emotionality of the disorder…But the other side of is driven by an equally instinctually and concentrated need to [be in] control."

I know you can’t see me, but I’m pretty easy on the eyes. I’m not a super model or anything, but I’m pretty. There’s a song by Emilie Autumn entitled Thank God I’m Pretty, it’s an entirely sardonic reply to how pretty women are often objectified in society and expected to take that objectification as a compliment. Otherwise we must just be a bitch. For me? It really just makes me second guess what someone really wants from me, and considering my history, my guess is not going to lean towards optimistic best intentions.

Here’s the thing. Like every individual on the planet, our personal experiences are going to affect how we perceive certain situations. With something as emotionally involved as sex can be, and keep in mind that we are a group of people that deal with an extreme form of emotional dysregulation, the experiences, and traumas of our past our going to color our judgment a great deal. How we cope is also going to be unique to the kind of people we are.

I was in love with The One. My best friend since I was 13 years old. He lead me on, used me, cheated on me, lied to me, made false promises to leave his failing marriage for me, and then when I was finally done with all of it, he raped me. It was all about easy sex for him, with zero regard for how it would affect me. He wasn’t the first and he wasn’t the last either. It’s sad but I’m almost used to guys trying to take advantage of me in this way. Of course I’m not blind and pretty smart so I see it coming from a mile away.  I also don’t have a very passive personality. I tend to overcompensate, so I find power and detachment in sex. Having sex with little to no emotional attachment, using sex as a way to avoid true emotional intimacy is more my style. At the same time I don’t feel alone, but also not so close as to put my heart in danger. It’s also no surprise that I have deep issues when it comes to intimacy with men. We talk about sexual promiscuity and recklessness, but I do this women. With men, there has to be something else, b/c I have a lot of issues and point blank I don’t feel safe, or that men will ever have my best intentions at heart. Sorry guys. I have issues. I’m working on them.

Which is often another problem. When our relationships are turbulent, when there is a great deal of conflict and misunderstanding in our relationships, it’s hard to maintain a positive attitude about sex. And the sex we have will be less fulfilling. Many women in general, but especially those of us with a hypersensitivity to our partners “needs” can feel pressured into sex because we know they want it, and fear losing them if we don’t comply. The problem is, when we’re doing it mostly for the other person, and less for both of us equally, there’s going to be a general sense of obligation. Obligatory sex doesn’t exactly sound sexy now does it? I’m certainly guilty of this. But my partner was happy, and blissfully unaware. That doesn’t lead to the greatest opinions and satisfaction with sexual experiences though.

Sex is easy for some, less so for others. I have a hard time with guys (no pun intended), not so much with women. Some people with BPD are very promiscuous and reckless (I can be), others are very withdrawn and have a hard time letting people touch them at all (I’ve had phases of this as well).

So there you have it. A look at the other side of the reckless promiscuity we’re all so supposedly wrapped up in.  Nothing is ever so clean cut.

And for those of you interested: Emilie Autumn - Thank God I'm Pretty

**Sorry to my brother and sister if this is TMI, but you were warned. 


  1. I'm bipolar, but I identify majorly with a lot of borderline symptoms too. I have a problem with sexual avoidance. I only have sex because I feel obligated to my partner, and yeh I feel scared he'll leave me if I don't... So what are you supposed to do when you never want sexual intimacy? Should you do what you want and just never have sex lol?? Good luck keeping a relationship with that one though hey! Also, I use sex to "punish" myself when I feel bad about myself. Like I give in when I don't feel like it, and its sort of like I deserve to feel uncomfortable. Have you experienced similar things, and what do you do??

  2. Could someone answer this for me please.

    I had a relationship with someone who I now believe very strongly to have BPD along with NPD.
    He was going through an unhappy marriage, or so he led me to believe.
    He went through the pursuer stage, the clinger stage, totally obsessing over me (on a pedestal etc) He would be very hypersexual, flustered, aroused,,,, touchy, and of course he charmed me out of the trees.

    He would beg me to spend some time with him (he needed to make love to me so badly)and the chase went on for a long time with him telling me he was deeply in love with me.

    I really fell hard for him.

    However, when it came to the actual deed, he would completely lose his erection, as you can imagine, I put this down to nerves at first, but after a while it became very distressing for me.

    I won't go into too many details but it turned out he was also giving the same attetnion to someone else, which after much research seems to be the thing for most BPDs.

    I just couldn't fathom what was wrong and why this happened every time we were alone. The only time he actually really seemed to let himself go was a time when he almost shouted someone elses name out at the crucial moment. I was devastated. It was after all a new relationship?

    I have reasearched everything I can to try to understand it all, I just couldn't understand why he was absolutely obsessed with me, claimed, and still claims to this day that I was the absolute love of his life, but the same thing happened every time.

    It turned out that he needed medication for the problem, for his wife as well and had done for the previous few years.

    I now think form reasearch that something must have triggered the problem, but never found out what it was.

    I tried to understand, I was patient, reassured him constantly that I loved him, found him very attractive, but he always said I was just too beautiful, too toned, too stunning (I never thought so myself).

    I don't expect sanyone to give a definite answer but is it likely that anyone with BPD could manage to have sex and enjoy it more with someone who he/she did not see as 'too good for them'?

    I guess I could never let go of that one time he really let go, it hurt so much, but the other times, he seemd to be spaced out as though he was 'shutting himself down' not really with me, in fact it was quite mechanical.

    Any insight would be great thanks

    1. he can't let go of the fact that the act of sex is not about him. his ruminations of sexing you and sharing a wonderful orgasm stops him the moment that reality of the deed is near and that it is YOU not him who is making him aroused resulting in conflict between his NEED and your willingness to let go the latter being a latent aborration of women who are just trying to please to keep their partner from straying. That sets him off on some MECHANICAL mission to have to perform whether he should be rewarded or not for the effort he has put in to win you over. HIS guilt will metamorphise into something that leads him to self flagration ending up with the next time you see him as being even worse than the last episode. Sure he LOVES you but to him, its something that he THINKS he should be able to deal with as mechanically as he deals with sexing. He likley feels more intersted ruminating over why he can't just enjoy sex and all the while he is distancing himself from his main goal and that is to just love another person and put aside his NEED in fact BURY the thought of sex altogether because that's what is confusing him. So he becomes sexually anorexic after satisfying himself that he can't connect the two, love and sex. the crazy thing about all this is that we all strive to have a relationship and work so hard at it we wonder if the journey was worth it. When we let ourselves go, we then wonder if the other person is like that too with everyone they meet.
      My take would be to treat yourself as a child of a caring loveing parent who only wanted the best for you and to be with a partner who was MATURE enough to appreciate that the ACT is something very special and memorable and likely satisfying rather than something to brag about later with losers.
      Its all good ideas however to at least recognise what you have gone back to and reflect that you don't want your life to be roller coaster ride till you're too old and wrinkly to think that no one would WANT you anymore it might be more fulfilling to put that shitty subject aside and get on with appreciating that people do want to see another side of you and you can charm them into your special world they way you would like it to be. Mahatma Ghandi said"You be the change that you wish to see in the world"
      For me? I wish that it didn't bother me that people change as soon as they are out of my sight.

  3. I was just diagnosed with bpd. what should I do?

  4. Thanks for this. Really enjoyed the song. Can truly relate. I was married for thirteen years to a.....narcissist? sex addict? intimacy phobe? I have been diagnosed BPD, and can sooo identify with the jist of this article. Before marriage, I was quite promiscuious. I had no problem being sexual with a stranger. My husband and I had good sex up until the time we married. I got pregnant within a week of the wedding. When he started having erectile disfunction, I thought it was because of the pregnancy...but, five years later he still couldn't perform with me. We didn't even attempt to have sex for the last eighteen months of that five years. Then I found out about his affairs, and that he was in love with a girl that had been coming on to him for the last two and a half years. This devastated me. He talked to a lawer about divorce, but surmised that he couldn't afford it. Then and only then did he feel any remorce or shame. Me? I had been one of those who had thanked God I was pretty, and thought that was just about all I was good for, so when my husband couldnt have sex with me, I wasn't good for anything at all. two years of clinical depression and a lot of therapy later, I was improving. But, even now, many, many years and a divorce later, I ruminate about what happened and why, I am celebate, and I dont socialize much.
    Any way, thanks for letting me share my take on this.

  5. Men who have sexual performance anxiety usually worry about whether they do get a penile erection and when they are about to have sex, they lose their erection, or it can be that when they are actually in the course of having sexual intercourse, they lose the genital erection, or they don't get their 'thing'stubbornly up at all.
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