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Psychol Med. 1995 Mar;25(2):413-7.

Puberty, sexual milestones and abuse: how are they related in eating disorder patients?

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St Mary's Hospital, Early Intervention Service, London.


In order to assess the relationship pubertal development, sexual milestones and childhood sexual abuse in women with eating disorders, 44 patients with restricting anorexia nervosa (RAN), 26 with bulimic anorexia nervosa (BAN), 29 with bulimia nervosa and also with a history of anorexia nervosa (BN/HistAN), and 69 with bulimia nervosa but without a history of anorexia nervosa (BN) completed questionnaires on pubertal and sexual development and unpleasant sexual experiences. Forty-four female college students complete the sexual development questionnaire only. Different eating disorder groups were found to be similar in terms of their pubertal development. All eating disorder groups showed delays in aspects of their psychosexual development (age at first kiss, masturbation, genital fondling and first sexual intercourse) compared with the control group, although to a different degree. The RAN group was delayed on almost all sexual milestones whereas the other groups were delayed on only some. On some variables, most noticeably on first sexual intercourse, restricters also were more delayed than the other eating disorder groups. Similarly, the median number of sexual partners differed significantly between groups (RAN = 1, BAN = 2, BN/HistAN = 4, BN = 4, controls = 5, P < 0.0001). Eating disorder patients, in particular RAN patients, were less positive about sexual relationships than controls, but did not differ from controls in attitudes to masturbation, marriage, children or pregnancy. Of the eating disorder patients 22-31% had been sexually abused during childhood. A history of abuse affected attitudes to masturbation, but did not appear to affect sexual development.

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