Fear of sex or sexual intimacy is also called “genophobia” or “erotophobia.” This is more than a simple dislike or aversion. It’s a condition that can cause intense fear or panic when sexual intimacy is attempted. For some people, even thinking about it can cause these feelings.
There are other phobias related to genophobia that might occur at the same time:
- nosophobia: fear of getting a disease or virus
- gymnophobia: fear of nudity (seeing others naked, being seen naked, or both)
- heterophobia: fear of the opposite sex
- coitophobia: fear of intercourse
- haphephobia: fear of being touched as well as touching others
- tocophobia: fear of pregnancy or childbirth
A person might also have general fear or anxiety about being emotionally close with another person. This can then translate into a fear of sexual intimacy.
Phobias involve a more marked reaction than simply not liking or being afraid of something. By definition, phobias involve intense fear or anxiety. They cause physical and psychological reactions that typically interfere with normal functioning.
This fear reaction is triggered by the event or situation that a person fears.
Typical phobic reactions include:
- an immediate feeling of fear, anxiety, and panic when exposed to the source of the phobia or even thoughts of the source (in this case, a sexual encounter)
- an understanding that the fear is atypical and extreme but, at the same time, an inability to minimize it
- a worsening of symptoms if the trigger isn’t removed
- avoidance of the situation that causes the fear reaction
- nausea, dizziness, trouble breathing, heart palpitations, or sweating when exposed to the trigger
It isn’t always clear what causes phobias, even specific phobias. If there is a specific cause, treating that cause first is important. Various causes of genophobia might include physical or emotional issues:
- Vaginismus. Vaginismus is when the muscles of the vagina clench up involuntarily when vaginal penetration is attempted. This can make intercourse painful or even impossible. It can also interfere with inserting a tampon. Such severe and consistent pain can lead to a fear of sexual intimacy.
- Erectile dysfunction. Erectile dysfunction (ED) is difficulty obtaining and sustaining an erection. Although it’s treatable, it might lead to feelings of embarrassment, shame, or stress. Someone with ED might not want to share this with another person. Depending on how intense the feelings are, this might cause a person to become fearful of sexual intimacy.
- Past sexual abuse or PTSD. Child abuse or sexual abuse can cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and affect the way you view intimacy or sex. It can also affect sexual functioning. While not every survivor of abuse develops PTSD or a fear of sex or intimacy, these things might be a part of some individuals’ fear of sex.
- Fear of sexual performance. Some people are nervous about whether they’re “good” in bed. This can cause intense psychological discomfort, leading them to avoid sexual intimacy altogether for fear of ridicule or poor performance.
- Body shame or dysmorphia. Shame of one’s body, as well as being overly self-conscious about the body, can negatively impact sexual satisfaction and cause anxiety. Some individuals with severe body shame or dysmorphia (seeing the body as flawed although, to other people, it looks normal) may avoid or fear sexual intimacy altogether because of the lack of pleasure and intense shame it brings them.
- A history of rape. Rape or sexual assault can cause PTSD and various kinds of sexual dysfunction, including negative associations with sex. This might cause someone to develop a fear of sexual intimacy.
If there is a physical component present, such as vaginismus, this can be treated accordingly. Pain with intercourse is common. If left untreated, it might lead to a fear or avoidance of sexual intercourse.
If a physical cause is identified, treatment depends on the specific issue, and then any accompanying emotional component can be addressed.
Therapy for phobias typically includes psychotherapy. Various kinds of psychotherapy have been shown to be beneficial for phobias, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy.
CBT involves working on developing alternative ways of thinking about the phobia or situation while also learning techniques to address physical reactions to the trigger. It can be paired with exposure to the feared situation (in a “homework assignment,” for example).
A sex therapist can also be helpful for addressing genophobia. The kind of therapy in individual sessions depends largely on the underlying causes of the phobia and the specific situation.
The difference between a mild fear and a phobia is that a phobia has a negative impact on your life, affecting it in significant ways. Fear of sex can interfere with developing romantic relationships. It can also contribute to feelings of isolation and depression. Phobias are treatable with therapy and/or medication, depending on the situation.
A doctor can do an exam to see if there is a physical component to your fear of sex, and if so, help treat that. If there is no underlying physical aspect, your doctor can provide you with resources and referrals to therapists who specialize in phobias.
This condition is treatable. It is not something you have to face alone.