Changing Our Relationship to Our Skin: Sexual Anorexia and Overeating

Last week on Oprah’s show they explored how to talk to your children about sex and Dr. Laura Berman said something that provoked a huge response in the audience: that parents should give their daughters permission to masturbate. She went so far as to say that at 15or 16, introduce a vibrator. She asserted that if we teach young girls to take their power back around sexuality, they won’t be dependent on boys for their pleasure and confuse the good feelings they get from being pleasured by a boy with love.

Although Oprah was completely on board with this, Gayle was against it. She asserted one of the most sexist things I’ve ever heard on this show: that it is ok for boys to masturbate because they are more sexually driven as teenagers. Well, I can tell you that as a child growing up in the 70’s where sexual mores had changed dramatically, I lived in a home where I was taught sex was for marriage.  I drove all my chaotic, sexual feelings into food and between the ages of 13-15, gained 40 pounds. I remember having sexual arousal but not knowing what to do with it, my stress management technique was to eat cookies instead. How many girls who aren’t dating is this also true for? In the words of Dr. Toni Grant:  “Food is a good girl’s sex.”

But I digress. Getting back to Gayle and the Oprah show. Gayle has made no bones about mentioning her love for food.  Why is it ok to derive pleasure from food but not from our own bodies? If a teenage girl sat down at a great meal and ate from pleasure, Gayle (and many people in America who agree with her) would be fine with that but it is not ok to have that pleasure come from touching ourselves.  Unfortunately,  Dr. Berman did not go far enough. Although masturbation is part of the pleasure, what we aren’t taught is how to touch ourselves lovingly all over our bodies.

And here’s the irony: Food when eaten to excess produces childhood obesity, diabetes, and a host of other health issues. The last I heard, stroking your own body does not make you go blind! Nor does it produce weight gain.  In Ashley Montagu’s seminal work first published in 1971, Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin, he shares with the reader the studies that were done that support how critical being touched is to healthy human functioning and as an extension, to the ability to bond with another.  

My take on this is that when we are not touched, food becomes the safe  mother. The mother who gives us unconditional love.

When a teenage girl is given permission in her formative years to have intimacy with herself first, she does not reach out to find it indiscriminately with a boy, another adolescent most probably incapable of giving her what she truly needs. He can’t because he is being driven by the mother lode of testosterone into focusing his desire for sexual release.  If girls had another avenue for nurturing themselves, they wouldn’t be as driven to make food their lover. It is time for us to move beyond this puritan schizophrenia we have that allows kids to see soft porn scenes in day- time soap operas while at the same time making a physical relationship with our own bodies forbidden.


Dr. Toni Galardi is a licensed psychotherapist and author of The LifeQuake Phenomenon. Her website address is She is also available for consultation at 310-712-2600.