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Erotophobia

Understanding the Fear of Sex

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Updated December 05, 2012

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Erotophobia is a generalized term that encompasses a wide range of specific fears. It's generally understood to include any phobia that is related to sex. Erotophobia is often complex, and many sufferers have more than one specific fear. Untreated erotophobia can be devastating and may lead sufferers to avoid not only romantic relationships, but also other forms of intimate contact.

Specific Phobias

Like any phobia, erotophobia varies dramatically in both symptoms and severity. It is a very personalized fear, and no two sufferers are likely to experience it in the same way. You may recognize some of your own fears in this list.

  • Genophobia: Also known as coitophobia, this is the fear of sexual intercourse. Many people with genophobia are able to begin romantic relationships, and may quite enjoy activities such as kissing and cuddling, but are afraid to move into a more physical display of affection.

  • Fear of Intimacy: The fear of intimacy is often, though not always, rooted in a fear of abandonment or its twin, the fear of engulfment. Those who fear intimacy are not necessarily afraid of the sex act itself, but are afraid of the emotional closeness that it may bring.

  • Paraphobia: The fear of sexual perversion is itself a complicated phobia. Some people are afraid that they might be perverted themselves, while others fear the perversions of others. Some people with paraphobia are able to enjoy traditional sexual relationships that fit well within their personal moral code, while others are afraid that any form of intimacy might be perverted.

  • Haphephobia: Also known as chiraptophobia, the fear of being touched often affects all relationships, not just those of a romantic nature. Some people recoil from even passing contact by a relative, while others are afraid only of more protracted touching.

  • Gymnophobia: The fear of nudity is often complex. Some people are afraid of being naked, others of people being naked around them. This fear may signal body image issues or feelings of inadequacy, although it may also occur alone.

  • Fear of Vulnerability: Like the fear of intimacy, the fear of vulnerability is often tied to a fear of abandonment or a fear of engulfment. Many people are afraid that if they are totally themselves, others will not like them. A fear of vulnerability may affect numerous relationships, both sexual and nonsexual.

  • Philemaphobia: Also known as philematophobia, the fear of kissing may have many causes. It is often tied to physical concerns, such as a concern over bad breath or even germ phobia.

Erotophobia Causes

As a highly personalized fear, erotophobia may have innumerable causes. In some cases, it may be difficult or impossible to pinpoint a specific cause. Nonetheless, some people may be at a higher risk due to past or current events in their lives.

Sexual Abuse: Although not everyone with erotophobia has been raped or sexually abused, those who have been traumatized are at increased risk for developing some form of erotophobia.

Other Trauma: People who have been through major traumas have a higher risk of developing anxiety disorders including phobias. If the trauma was physical, you may be more likely to develop a touch-related erotophobia, while those who have been through psychological or emotional abuse may be more likely to develop intimacy or vulnerability-related fears.

Personal, Cultural, and Religious Mores: Although many religions and societies frown on sexual intercourse except for procreation — as well as on casual touch — following these restrictions does not constitute a phobia. However, many people experience difficulty when trying to balance past and current beliefs. If you have moved away from a restrictive background but are afraid to change past patterns of thought and action, you may at be risk for developing a phobia.

Performance Anxiety: Sometimes, it isn't actually sex that we fear at all. Instead, we may worry about our own ability to please a partner. Performance anxiety is particularly common in those who are young or inexperienced, but may occur in all ages and levels of experience.

Physical Concerns: Some people worry that sex will hurt. Some wonder if they will be able to perform due to a physiological condition. Fears that have a legitimate medical basis are not considered phobias. However, some people experience fears that are far out of proportion to the reality of the situation. If your fear is inappropriate to the current risks, you might have a phobia.

Treating Erotophobia

Because erotophobia is so complex, professional treatment is generally required. Sex therapists are licensed mental health professionals who have completed additional training and certification, and many people feel that they are the best choice for treating sexual concerns. However, it is not generally necessary to seek a sex therapist, as most mental health professionals are capable of managing erotophobia.

Erotophobia generally responds well to treatment, although complex erotophobia may take time and effort to resolve. Depending on your therapist's style and school of thought, you may need to face difficult and painful memories in order to heal and move forward. Because the nature of the fear is so personal, it is critical that you find a therapist with whom you truly feel comfortable.

Although beating erotophobia is never easy, most people find that the rewards are worth the effort. Be patient with yourself, and honest with your therapist. Over time, your fears will lessen and you can learn to enjoy your personal range of sexual expression.

Source:

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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