The Fear Of Sex

The Fear Of Sex

No-one is ever going to suggest that sex is a completely straightforward thing with no potential anxieties at all, because it’s perfectly normal to feel stressed and have worries around sex. Maybe even a little afraid and uncertain, especially if it’s something new to you, or you’re having sex with a new person for the first time. There are all kinds of insecurities around body shape and weight and these normal worries can be worked through fairly easily. But sometimes the worries spiral to form something more serious known as ‘erotophobia’, or fear of sex. This isn’t just uncertainty around body issues or sexual performance, the fear of sex is a much wider-ranging issue – but you might be pleased to know that it isn’t an uncommon one. That’s why we’ve come up with this guide about what erotophobia is, how you can identify it and what you can do if you suspect that you might have it. Don’t worry, you aren’t the first and you won’t be the last to suffer from this debilitating phobia.

What exactly is erotophobia?

There’s no one, single definition, but broadly speaking it’s the fear of sex or sexual intimacy. It can be specific to certain things or it can act as an umbrella term for a wider range of sexual fears. These can vary greatly in both severity and symptoms. There are a number of associated phobias which, if bunched together, make up the more general diagnosis of erotophobia. These include:

  • Genophobia – the term used for fear of sexual intercourse.
  • Philemaphobia – the fear of kissing.
  • Gymnophobia – the fear of nakedness.
  • Hophephobia – the fear of being touched.

So as you can see there might be several strands making up one, single phobia.

Anxiety around our sex lives is something most of us experience, but erotophobia is something well past those normal worries. This isn’t a dislike or aversion to sexual activity, a phobia is a clinically defined thing as an irrational fear. This fear is not something to be underestimated. Having a phobia can be a deeply damaging thing for the psyche and needs to be managed carefully.

Signs and symptoms?

Because of the nature of erotophobia there’s no one list with terms that can be ticked off and if you have a certain amount you quality for a fear of sex diagnosis, the signs that you might be suffering from it are more evasive to spot and can be easily mistaken for something else entirely. The symptoms that you’ll find associated with erotophobia are also linked to other phobias because when the body is frightened, it manifests this largely in the same way so it does the same things, to a greater or lesser degree. Signs of significant fear such as that associated with phobias include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Excessive sweating
  • Feeling panicked
  • Feeling faint
  • Feeling nauseous
  • A dry mouth
  • Breathlessness

Where does a fear of sex come from?

Now this is a complex question and the answer is probably that it comes from a number of factors, not just one thing – although this can also happen. Much of our psyche is determined through early childhood and the things we see or experience then can imprint themselves on the brain. This is why it’s very often not just one thing causing it, but several combined. Probabilities include:

  • Childhood trauma
  • A specific bad experience in childhood
  • Learnt behaviour. For example, if a parent or other caregiver has a specific phobia then it’s likely that a child will also develop the same phobia.
  • Sometimes it’s just down to brain function and genetics which have caused an irrational fear or fears.

You might never know what’s caused your fear of sex, although counselling could be helpful to you in picking apart the complex strands of a phobia.

Is there a way to get over the fear of sex?

The good news is that there are lots of things that can be done to get over fear of sex, especially if it hasn’t developed into full-blown erotophobia. If this is the case then there are strategies which work extremely well in managing lower levels of anxiety. The main thing is not to let it engulf you or control you because if this happens then it may well develop into something more serious – and less easy to treat.

A good starting point is to discuss your feelings with your partner so they are aware of the issues and can measure their behaviour accordingly. Sometimes it can help just to get things out into the open and by vocalising these fears, it can help allay them because you aren’t keeping them hidden in some dark spot in your brain where they can run amok. If you don’t have a partner at the moment then – and it sounds odd – but talking to family or friends could be a big help to you as well as an alternative. Sometimes just getting a different perspective on things can be hugely reassuring and you might see that it’s more common then you think to have these issues. A Global Sex Survey suggests that 2 out of 3 people think it’s difficult to talk about sexual issues so if this includes you then you certainly aren’t alone and you can take comfort from the fact that there are lots of other people who struggle to vocalise these thoughts.

After you’ve discussed these thoughts and feelings it might be easier to find a way forward and ultimately find sex a more enjoyable thing.

Seeking professional help.

There are some scenarios in which anxiety is usual, sex for the first time for example, or with a new person for the first time and whilst they shouldn’t be under-estimated, they also shouldn’t be confused with a full-blown phobia. If your feelings around sex or sexual relationships go from a nervousness to something unmanageable then it might be time to seek professional help. Signs that you need this help include experiencing severe panic, anxiety or fear at the thought of engaging with a sexual act, or it stops you from doing it altogether, then it might be time to seek medical help and support. Luckily there are options for dealing with these feelings and speaking to your GP is a good first move because they can assess your thoughts and feelings and refer for you counselling or further psychiatric treatment, which whilst it might sound scary, could actually be the key to solving this for you. 

Stuart Brown
Doctor of Sexual Health at the NHS Royal London Hospital & Relationship Expert. Columnist at An advocate of safe sex. Avid Arsenal fan.

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