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Sparrowhawk
08-23-02, 11:47 AM
I read this article this morning, and after years of counseling I know how some suffer from similar problems, I felt it may make some interesting reading.



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<left> http://a799.ms.akamai.net/3/799/388/210c53789247ba/www.msnbc.com/news/1601717.jpg </left><b>Breaking down weight
barriers to intimacy </b>

By Jennifer Kornreich
MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR



Aug. 22 — If you’re burning for some astute answers to an emotional or sexual crisis, Sexploration is all ears. This week, columnist Jennifer Kornreich offers advice to an overweight woman who’s ashamed to get intimate. Send your questions to sex@msnbc.com.



‘Many obese women and men unconsciously use their weight as a literal physical barrier to distance themselves from other people.’

— LYNNE KOLTON SCHNEIDER
sexuality therapist SEXPLORATION is our forum for your most intimate questions about sex and relationships. You send in your sob stories, and Jennifer Kornreich, MSNBC’s sex-and-relationship columnist, attempts to dry the tears. Keep in mind, though: Jennifer is not a doctor. When she feels it’s necessary, she’ll point you in the proper professional direction.

Q: I’m a 36-year-old, very large woman, and I’ve never had sexual intercourse before. I’ve blamed this on my weight for years, but I haven’t been able to lose weight successfully either. I need to figure out if I’m overweight to avoid intimacy with men — or if my lack of intimacy has depressed me and caused me to gain the weight.
Men have been interested in me, and the original chase between us is fun, but once they really want to be with me, I find every excuse to send them packing. I can’t understand why anyone would want to be with me as I feel my body is horrible. Then again, I’m offended when they don’t like me. I’m so confused.
I have recently met a nice man with whom I think I could potentially fall in love and settle down, but now I’m embarrassed to tell him that I’m a virgin. I feel very stupid. Can you help me?

A: Everyone goes through a period of anxiety when they first get involved with someone they really like and view as a potential keeper; that’s because they know that their emotional distress will be considerable should the relationship not work out.
People who endure this anxiety are often rewarded with a long-term relationship with someone who actually means something to them. People who cannot tolerate this anxiety are flight risks: They bail before they can get dumped (which of course would have been a possibility, but by no means a certainty). You seem to be a flight risk. Not only do you “send them packing,” but you suspect that you retreat into your body.

DEFENSE MECHANISM
Very often, disordered eating (whether it’s compulsive overeating, or conversely, anorexia), does indeed serve as a defense against getting close to others.
“Many obese women and men unconsciously use their weight as a literal physical barrier to distance themselves from other people,” says Lynne Kolton Schneider, a sexuality therapist in private practice in Flanders, N.J., with special expertise in the ways in which body image and physical problems interact with sexuality.


“This is especially likely if the person was abused or traumatized,” she adds, although it’s by no means a prerequisite to this phenomenon. Of course, not all overweight people are heavy due to fears of intimacy — and some people are happily plump — but your own pattern of fleeing whenever the prospect of a bona fide relationship presents itself is an indication that this dynamic is likely at work.
If your behavior and/or appearance function as coping mechanisms, they are surely maladaptive, because they only serve to further undermine your self-esteem (you view your body as “horrible”), to isolate you, and to perpetuate your conviction that relationships are dangerous (because you’re not sticking around to prove otherwise). Moreover, Kolton Schneider notes, by remaining heavy, if things don’t work out with a man, you can always blame it on your size. As painful as that must be, if you couldn’t attribute your romantic failures to your weight, you would have to wonder if there was something about you — at the core of you, as a person — that was rejected, which could be infinitely more painful.



INSIGHTS INTO INTIMACY
Your own insight into this situation is a big step in the right direction, Kolton Schneider says, because many people never achieve insight into the ways they handicap themselves and their relationships. Now that you realize that the obesity is preventing you from getting something in life that you want — a loving relationship — you can start to examine what exactly scares you about intimacy, and how to alter certain distortions and presumptions in your thinking that hinder you from connecting with potentially significant others and from losing the weight you want to lose.
Everyone goes through a period of anxiety when they first get involved with someone they really like and view as a potential keeper; that’s because they know that their emotional distress will be considerable should the relationship not work out.

“What do sex and love and intimacy mean to you? What are your fears and expectations?” Kolton Schneider asks. “For me, the question is not so much what came first — the obesity or the relationship troubles. Rather, now that you know that the obesity is at least partially contributing to your difficulties becoming intimate, what do you want to do about it?”
She and I think that you would benefit enormously from therapy, which will assist you in translating your insight into positive changes, both in your interpersonal behavior and in your relationships with food and your body.
Whether you choose to simultaneously begin a weight-loss program such as Overeaters Anonymous, Kolton Schneider emphasizes that you needn’t be overly discouraged by your previous failures to shed the weight.
Before now, you were likely spurred to diet because the censure of others (“others” being both people you know and society at large). Now that you know that you use your size defensively, and see how weight loss would help you become more comfortable with yourself, you would likely have more success, she says. Change is always easier when self-motivated rather than imposed by others.

OPENING UP
A therapist might also help you role-play possible approaches to your current beau. Kolton Schneider urges you to discuss your fears openly with this man, even at the risk of making yourself more vulnerable. Sure, it’s a daunting task, but it will facilitate long-term comfort with him. First of all, even if you don’t tell him you’re a virgin now, he’s likely to figure it out if and when you do consummate the relationship (or if you keep refusing him).

Secondly, if you can talk about your tendency to pull away from people for whom you care, he will likely understand any seemingly elusive, skittish or standoffish behavior when you’re feeling anxious, that might otherwise confuse or offend him.
And finally — and perhaps most crucially from your standpoint — you will not feel safe enough to get close unless you know he can accept your very late blooming. If he is going to be put off by your inexperience, better that you know it now — before investing more of your emotional energy.
Kolton Schneider suggests that you might begin by telling him that you care about him and want to get closer, but you are frightened and want to take things slowly — and that you need to know that when the two of you are physical, you can stop at any time without feeling ashamed or guilty.

By the way, while prolonged virginity and celibacy are of course choices that are yours to make, Kolton Schneider warns that such ongoing abstention may become problematic in that “sex may be so built up in your mind and take on such a symbolic power that if you’re at all disappointed when you finally do have sex” — which is certainly a possibility with the first time — “it could be devastating. And it may put a lot of pressure on your partner to know that you expect him to be everything you imagined.” It’s important that you make him feel that he was worth waiting for, regardless of the actual physical experience.

Jennifer Kornreich is a features writer in New York City.





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If you’re burning for some astute answers to an emotional or sexual crisis, Sexploration columnist Jennifer Kornreich is all ears. Send her your questions at sex@msnbc.com. We’ll post selected answers in this column.