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Adolesc Med. 2003 Feb;14(1):61-75.

Psychosexual development and eating disorders.

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Dept. of Psychiatry, North Shore University Hospital, 400 Community Drive, Manhasset, NY 11030, USA.


The relationship among eating disorders (EDs), psychosexual and identity development, and physical maturation (puberty) is reviewed. The developmental tasks of adolescence are summarized, and research from both community studies and clinical samples on the association between the development of an ED and putative risk factors that include pubertal development and psychosexual behaviors and attitudes for children and adolescents is reviewed. Specific issues explored include the role of child and adolescent abuse and EDs in males. Overall evidence suggests the following: there are inconsistent findings regarding early pubertal development as a risk factor; there is some support for differences between the ED subtypes in sexual attitudes, behaviors, and experiences; sexual abuse is not a specific risk factor; and gender identity issues may play more of a role for adolescent males than females. However, psychosexual issues are neither sufficient nor necessary for the development of an ED in a young person. It should be considered as only one factor in the multidimensional, multifactorial framework needed to clarify this complex and still poorly understood set of disorders.

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