What's it like to have a sexual phobia?
For most people, sex is one of the greatest pleasures there is – or, at the very least, a fun way to pass on hour. But for some people, affected by a range of different sexual phobias, just the thought of getting physical can be a terrifying and panic-inducing experience.
Imagine if, rather than excited and aroused, the prospect of sex left you short of breath, trembling, sweating and crying, with your heart pounding in your chest. Instead of feeling horny, imagine approaching sex full of dread, terror and anxiety – like you might feel looking into the eyes of a wild bear as it gradually approaches you. It's difficult to imagine, but for some people that's the reality that sexual intimacy presents.
What are sexual phobias?
So just why do sexual phobias exist, and how do they actually affect people's lives? Well, a whole range of conditions fall under the term 'sexual phobia' but the most common are erotophobia, meaning a generalised fear of sex and sexuality, and genophobia (also known as coitophobia), which can either be a phobia of all sex acts, or a phobia specifically of sexual intercourse.
Like most phobias, sexual phobias typically manifest as panic and fear, similar to having a panic attack, with a mixture of distressing emotional and physical symptoms. People who are affected can become extremely distressed by thinking about or attempting sexual contact.
What causes sexual phobia?
There are a number of possible causes of genophobia, the most obvious of which is a history of sexual violence – whether that's rape, sexual assault, or childhood sexual abuse. In these cases, the fear of sex comes from the physical and psychological trauma and fears associated with their past experiences.
People who have been sexually abused in the past may find it difficult to trust others, and may even be suffering from rape trauma syndrome or post-traumatic stress disorder. Understandably, this can make sex an incredibly frightening prospect.
Sexual phobias may also be caused by some kind of insecurity – such as body image worries, erectile dysfunction, or performance anxiety. For transgender people experiencing gender dysphoria, sexual phobia can also be a side effect of the distress they feel about living inside the wrong body.
Alternatively, sexual phobia might come from other, pre-existing fears. For some people it may come from a fear of intimacy, abandonment or vulnerability, which causes them to withdraw from others and avoid intimate, romantic relationships out of a fear of being hurt or let down.
For others, it may be linked to fears about sexual perversion (paraphobia), being touched (haphephobia/chiraptophobia), contracting a disease (nosophobia), nudity (gymnophobia) or kissing (philemaphobia/philematophobia).
How do sexual phobias affect people?
Whatever the cause, sexual phobias often result in similar issues. Romantic relationships can, for obvious reasons, stumble into difficulties, or sufferers may even avoid relationships altogether for fear of physical intimacy.
This can lead to feelings of isolation, embarrassment and shame. Some people may adopt a lifestyle of asexuality or celibacy out of fear, but this can simply leave them feeling unfulfilled and lonely.
Can sexual phobia be treated?
The good news though is that sexual phobias, like all forms of anxiety, can be treated. Some people may choose to see a sex therapist who's trained to deal specifically with sexual issues and problems, but traditional talking therapists can also provide valuable support in overcoming fears and anxieties about sex.
Therapy allows sufferers to talk through and understand the root causes of the phobia, whether that’s overcoming past traumas or learning strategies to question and challenge anxious thoughts. Doctors may also prescribe anxiety medication to help ease the symptoms of panic, and gynaecological treatment can be helpful for tackling any physical pain or issues linked to the fear.
Author: Sarah Graham