Sex and Eating Disorders: A Conversation with August McLaughlin

When I met August McLaughlin at a conference in 2015, we bonded over being two of the only sexuality writers there. Later, we discovered we were sisters (her words) in something  else too: having a history of an eating disorder (ED). Since then, our conversations cover everything from being #HeelFree to the intersections of eating disorders and sexuality.

One of my favorite parts of her book, GirlBoner: A Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment is how she weaves her histories with both sexual empowerment and mental health struggles through even the most mundane topics, like anatomy. August gets that each of these topics impacts the other. She embodies finding freedom in pleasure. And I’m so excited to share our conversation with you.

Throughout your book and other work, you discuss how sex and pleasure helped you heal from your eating disorder and other mental health struggles. For those unfamiliar with your story, can you tell us more?

In my late teens and early twenties, I struggled with a severe eating disorder. Where conventional treatments failed, sexual empowerment brought healing. And it was a total fluke. I was taking college classes between treatment sessions and one day a professor prompted a discussion around sex. It struck me that I’d never really talked about sex. This led me on a path of self-discovery.

I started asking myself questions, such as why had I never discussed this? Shame I hadn’t even realized existed gradually lifted and I began to see myself and my body as beautiful and worthy of pleasure. It was a game changer that I believe helped save my life and inspires my work to this day.

Prior to that, I also struggled with body dysmorphia and depression, which I now know derived largely from undiagnosed ADHD. Regardless, I have no doubt that I would have better thrived from adolescence onward if I’d learned positive messages about sex and sexuality. Sexual pleasure wouldn’t have been a cure-all, but it would have helped me tremendously. Instead, my sex education was limited to an awkward class or two that instilled fear, confusion, and dread—and zilch about pleasure.

Read the rest of our conversation on Blood + Milk