Childhood Sexual Abuse and Eating Disorders
Recently, a great amount of psychological literature has focused on finding biological and genetic causes of mental illnesses and disorders, including eating disorders. However, according to recent twin studies, the heritability component of eating disorders may only account for 0% to 70% of the variance (Fairburn, Cowen, & Harrison, 1999). The leaves an ample amount of room for speculation of possible environmental risk factors for eating disorders. In this paper, I wish to examine one possible environmental risk that has received attention since the mid-80’s. Since that time, researchers have searched to determine the relationship between childhood sexual abuse, or trauma in general, and the development of eating disorders.
It seems somewhat logical to assume that a person who has experienced sexual trauma might develop feelings of dissatisfaction as well as disgust with their own body—the medium of abuse. Also, one might even attribute the anti-pubertal effects achieved through self-starvation as a suppression of sexuality that may be desired by a survivor of sexual abuse. These hypotheses, as well as connections observed between sexual abuse and PTSD and also between anxiety disorders (of which PTSD is one) and eating disorders led many researchers to study this relationship. However, the large body of the studies contradict each other’s findings. Many studies have found no evidence of a relationship between sexual abuse and eating disorders and others have found evidence. In this paper, I would like to examine the results of studies that have been aimed at answering the question, “Is childhood sexual abuse a risk factor for eating disorders?”
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