The Best Ways To Cope With Fear Of Sexual Intimacy

By: Sarah Cocchimiglio

Updated January 05, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Tonia Cassaday

Sometimes it seems as though sex runs our society. People experience seeing sexually-charged images frequently. Using these images is often a great way to sell your product as it motivates many people to succeed and they are on the minds of most people, men and women alike.

Even though several people experience seeing sexual images every once in a while, our society has made sex a bit of a taboo subject. For some reason, in general, we just are not open about our sex lives, and even though many things in our society are sexualized, there's a limit, and when that limit is crossed, trouble arises. Case in point: No man wants to talk about how they couldn't "get it up" one night, and no one likes talking about the fear of having sex.

Medically reviewed research has found that, if you or your partner suffer from a fear of sexual intimacy, being constantly inundated with images and messages of sexual intercourse can be uncomfortable and overwhelming. But you are not alone: people all over the world are going through the same thing right now, and there are things you can do to help cope with, and even overcome, the fear. Healthy romantic relationships and fulfilling sex lives are possible.

In this article, we'll talk about what a fear of sexual intimacy actually is, as well as the symptoms, possible causes behind why people experience, and coping techniques to help you form a romantic relationship with someone.

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The Fear of Sexual Intimacy

The fear of sexual intimacy is clinically referred to as genophobia, (also known as coitophobia). The "geno" in the word means "offspring." Almost everyone has had fears and anxieties when they're about to have sex with someone.

However, genophobic people are scared of sexual intimacy all the time. They may have intense panic attacks or fear when they're confronted with a sexual situation, and may even have episodes when they think of the idea of sex. This can lead to a person feeling lonely and wanting to avoid romantic relationships. It is, however, a fairly common issue, and one that you can definitely overcome with therapy.

Symptoms of Fear of Sexual Intimacy

  • Increased heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath - This can be a symptom of a panic attack, too
  • Crying
  • Avoiding others - You may end up avoiding other people, even those you won't have sex with, for fear of possibly discussing sexual intimacy

The Causes Of Genophobia

With many fears, there is usually some trauma that gives rise to the development of fear. Some possible experiences and situations that may lead to a fear of sexual intimacy include:

  1. Rape: This is one of the most emotionally traumatizing events that can happen to a person. As you probably know, rape is when someone forces you to have sex with them without your consent, and it is almost always violent. It affects millions and can cause serious emotional or sexual problems.

Everyone handles the aftermath of their rape differently. Some people may become more promiscuous to cope with their trauma, while others may do the opposite and experience a decrease in their sexual desire. If you're a rape victim, you may become less trusting of people, especially those who are similar to your rapist, whether that means their gender, hair color, etc. You may experience genophobia. Even if a future encounter is consensual, you may feel that it's wrong or may worry that you could find yourself in the same situation. Even those who trust their partners completely can have genophobic episodes.

Living through rape is nothing to be ashamed of. Rape is a horrifying experience, and it will take time for you to heal. With the right resources, however, healing is not only possible but likely.

  1. Childhood Trauma: This can be similar to rape, but there are some differences. You may not even remember the experience, but you may still have an unconscious fear of sex because of it. Also, childhood trauma doesn't just mean you were molested or sexually assaulted as a child. Childhood trauma can be caused by hearing about sex, watching pornography as a child, walking in on your parents having sex, etc.

Think about your childhood. Is there any event that could have been the catalyst to your genophobia? You may have mentally blocked it off, or you may have to do a little mental digging. Your therapist can help you realize, cope with, and recover from painful memories.

There are also some less traumatic causes of genophobia as well, including:

  1. Insecurity: Everybody has insecurities. Both men and women can worry about their body image. Men may worry about their penis being adequately sized, and women may worry about how their genitals look, too. It's common, and most will go through it. Genophobic people think about these insecurities constantly, and it will be at the forefront of their minds as they're having sex.
  2. Religious Upbringing: Sex is a taboo in many religions. If you were raised to believe that sex is something that should only be reserved for procreation, and the idea was hammered into you, you may find it popping up when you try to have sex. Even if you don't participate in that religion anymore, or have become more moderate, you may still have those thoughts and fears when you're in an intimate situation.
  3. Different Fears: Sometimes, genophobia will be the byproduct of another fear. For example, you may have a fear of nudity, or a fear of contracting an STD, despite knowing that your partner is healthy. There may be a fear of becoming pregnant or a fear of touching — the list goes on.

So How Do You Move Forward?

There is no magic pill to overcome genophobia. Like most fears, it takes time to work through it. Some never completely get over it but can be able to manage it and live a healthy sex life. Here are some ways to help recover from genophobia.

  1. Find The Reason

Look at these causes above. Have you had any experience or insecurity, that could be the cause of your genophobia? Even if you can't think of anything, your trauma might be hidden. Talk to your family or friends and try to figure out a cause.

  1. Dealing With Insecurities

If you feel like the reason for your genophobia is because of your insecurities, try working on self-acceptance and self-love. Not only will you feel more confident, but you may increase your stamina, too.

If it's something beyond your control, surround yourself with people who won't put you down for your insecurity. Talk to others who may suffer from the same insecurities, and learn different coping mechanisms.

Also, don't be afraid to talk to your partner about your insecurities. If they care for you, they'll understand.

  1. Get To Know Your Body

Sometimes, you may want to know your own body better. What makes it feel good, what are your turn-ons, what elevates your sexual desire? In other words, masturbate. Don't be afraid to use toys, watch something erotic, and explore yourself. This can help to quell your fears, as you'll know more about what turns you on. You don't need to be ashamed of your body. If this idea is too triggering for you, that is completely understandable! Start by sitting comfortably, in whatever clothes you feel at ease in, and simply relax into your body. Try giving yourself compliments, such as, "My arms are strong, and help me accomplish things every day." You can also try a guided meditation.


4. Find Someone Who Knows Your Trauma

If your genophobia is due to past trauma, make sure your partner knows about it. Your partner should assure you that everything is going to be okay, and if there's anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, let them know. Having someone who doesn't respect your experience can worsen your fears, but if you have someone who is truly caring, you'll learn to make coping with those fears a little bit easier.

BetterHelp Can Help

Don't feel afraid to seek therapy from a medical professional. Getting advice from your friends or loved ones is great, but a true professional can help you to figure out the exact cause of your genophobia and identify the steps you can take to be on your way to fix it. This is especially important if you've suffered from trauma, as a professional can help you cope without triggering an episode.

While many may feel weird talking about their sex lives to a therapist, they can help you, confidentially and without judgment. If discretion or your work schedule is of concern, you might even consider online therapists. Check out below to read reviews of BetterHelp's online counselors from real people like you, who have found the right therapist to help in dealing with issues like fear of sexual intimacy.

Counselor Reviews

"Just within a few weeks of talking to Jordan, he has been incredibly helping in providing me alternative ways to look at trauma in my life, somehow immediately lifting years of weight off my shoulders. I would absolutely recommend Jordan to a friend."

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"Dr. Anstadt is the first therapist that I have spoken to, and I wish to be able to keep him. He has been great at helping me realize my anxiety triggers and has helped my relationships with all of my loved ones. I am incredibly grateful for his balanced approach, how he ties multiple issues together while not making tackling issues overwhelming at all."

Genophobia doesn't mean that you have to have a bad sex life. Like all fears, you can cope with them, or learn to conquer them altogether. Talk to people who care about you, whether that is friends, family, or a professional. You can conquer this fear and move on to have a fruitful sex life, and fulfilling relationships.

What are the signs of intimacy issues?

Medically reviewed research has found that intimacy issues can come in many forms. You may feel uncomfortable or fearful of expressing any affections, emotions, or commitment. You may have a hard time talking about any deep feelings that you may have. You may not trust your partner with anything, even sharing what goals you have in your life.

If you're in a serious sexual relationship and you feel like you can't reveal certain things to your partner out of irrational fear, you may have problems with intimacy.

Intimacy issues could be a fear of sex, too. This isn't being asexual or dealing with a lack of sexual desire, but instead wanting sex but fearing it. The fear of sex or avoiding sexual expressions may be due to multiple reasons, such as trauma in the past (emotional or sexual abuse) or something else that is preventing you from having it. Anyone can develop a fear of sex and fear sexual encounters for a multitude of reasons.

While sex isn't the end-all in any relationship, it's important for many, and the fear of sex or genophobia can stop a relationship. Medically reviewed studies have found that when one wants sexual intercourse and the other is fearful of sexual encounters, this can be a problem. If you find yourself in this condition, it's pertinent to seek medical professional assistance. Talk to your doctor or therapist if you have a fear of sex or any other type of fear, and you can learn how to overcome it.

How do I get over my fear of intimacy?

If you have a fear of intimacy, it may have an impact on your relationships. With any fear, it's hard to "get over" it, but you can take steps to learn why you fear intimacy and eventually succeed at overcoming your fear. Here are some steps from medically reviewed resources that you can take to help move on from your fear of intimacy.

  • First, it's important to speak to a therapist if your fear of intimacy is severe. With extreme fear, it can be difficult to overcome fear on your own. A therapist can help you find the root cause and tackle it that way.
  • Try to identify why you feel this way. Different things may be responsible for the fear of intimacy. Was there a past trauma that could have lead to fear, such as abandonment or sexual abuse? Not all fear of intimacy is due to trauma or childhood sexual abuse, but quite often, it is. Learning how to cope with this childhood sexual abuse is an important part of overcoming your intimacy anxiety disorder or problems.
  • Try communicating with your partner more. Those who are close to you may be in the best position to help you if you are troubled by fear of intimacy. Your partner can help you get over your fear of intimacy. Start small, then work your way up. Baby steps are the key to making sure both of you feel safe throughout the process.
  • Look for triggers that make the fear of intimacy worse. It's easier to deal with the fear of intimacy when you identify things that trigger it. Is there a certain memory or emotion that could cause a fear of intimacy? If so, is there a way you can avoid thinking about it? This way, you can work your way to overcoming your fear of intimacy by learning to avoid your triggers.

Why am I afraid of being touched?

Not wanting to be touched by a stranger is perfectly reasonable, but you may wonder why you're afraid of being touched by someone you love. Medically reviewed research has found that people who have problems with intimacy fear it for several reasons. It doesn't have to be any sexual touching stemming from a fear of sexual intercourse, either. Something platonic could trigger the fear and cause someone to not feel safe or comfortable with being touched.

With any fear, there is going to be a unique cause for most cases. For many, they had some trauma involving touching. This could involve childhood sexual abuse. Childhood sexual abuse can result in a fear of emotional or sexual relationships. Sometimes, this childhood sexual abuse happened so long ago that they didn't even remember it. The fear of being touched may also relate to other fears as well, such as the fear of germs or OCD. Or, it could be something else.

Again, this is a case where you may want to see a therapist to help overcome your fear of being touched.

How can I be intimate with my partner?

For extreme cases, such as fear of sex or an extreme fear of intimacy, you should seek the help of a therapist that holds a medically reviewed license, such as a sex therapist or someone who specializes in another form of therapy. Otherwise, you can be intimate with your partner in a few ways, such as:

  • Go on little dates that you both love. This can lower your guard and make you more open to intimacy.
  • Start slow. It's okay to take baby steps and make sure that your boundaries aren't being crossed. A respectful partner will be glad to take it slow.
  • Create a list of progressions you've made, and make your own goals. Soon, you'll be intimate with your partner in no time.

What is it called when you have a fear of intimacy?

Interestingly enough, no phobia is specifically about the fear of intimacy. Instead, when someone fears intimacy, this condition may be related to the combination of different phobias, such as gymnophobia, the fear of nudity, or philophobia, the fear of love.

How do you develop intimacy?

Intimate relationships come in four different types including experiential, emotional, sexual, and intellectual. You should naturally want to develop intimacy with someone you love. There are some ways to grow closer with a partner. Mix up your routine and try new things. Be more open to talking about your emotions and learning more about one another (engaging in effective sexual expressions). Realize that they do love you and that it's okay for you to be open about your relationship problems.


What is an intimacy disorder?

Intimacy disorder is diagnosed when someone has a fear of forming intimate relationships with others. When someone fears intimacy, it may be due to many factors, such as the fear of abandonment developed by a child (death or separation of a parent). For many people, their parents mistreated them, intensifying the fear of abandonment. If not for the fear of abandonment, another trauma could have lead to intimacy disorder. Some of the symptoms of fear of intimacy include feelings of anger, a history of unstable relationships, insatiable sexual desire, and avoiding intimacy. If you fear intimacy you may also experience low self-esteem, trust issues, trouble with forming or committing to intimate relationships, inability to share feelings or express emotion, and living in self-imposed social isolation.

Intimacy can simply be the fear of sharing secrets with your partner, but it can also be the fear of sex or the fear of being touched. Both physical and mental intimacy exist, and you must find the root causes of both and figure out how you can get past it.

What is the fear of kissing called?

The feeling of fear you have, if you're afraid of kissing, is known as philemaphobia. The word "Philemon" is Greek for "kiss," hence the name. The people who tend to have this fear are usually young and inexperienced.

You may have heard someone referred to as a "bad kisser," and you're afraid that you'll be labeled as such due to your experience. With time and experience, you will usually overcome a fear of kissing. You don’t always have to dive through medically reviewed journals to understand where your insecurity toward kissing stems from.

Can cognitive behavioral therapy help me feel comfortable in forming intimate relationships? People typically enroll in cognitive behavioral therapy to address negative thoughts and behavioral issues that can cause them to sabotage relationships that are important to them. Identifying these situations and actions that sabotage relationships can help you determine what is currently straining your relationship and how you successfully can fix it. Sometimes a lack of communication or the tendency to take one’s stress out on one partner is the reason behind issues in your emotional or sexual relationship. Following medically reviewed techniques for treating these issues can be extremely effective.

Can poor mental health cause someone to develop erectile dysfunction? Medically reviewed studies have found that erectile dysfunction can sometimes be caused or worsened by a problem with one’s mental health. Performance anxiety, stress, and depression are common psychological causes of this disorder. By treating these mental health issues, you can start to alleviate your performance anxiety and prevent erectile dysfunction.

Can social anxiety deter people from forming intimate relationships? People who experience anxiety disorders may have trouble forming and cultivating romantic relationships. This may be because their anxiety disorder discourages them from disclosing intimate aspects of their lives. In general, people who suffer from anxiety disorders experience a deficit in their happiness toward their relationships.

What is sexual anorexia? According to medically reviewed research, sexual anorexia is defined by a lack of sexual desire or interest in engaging in sexual contact— sometimes the sexual desire for sexual contact may be little. The term “anorexia” typically refers to one’s appetite. In this case, the appetite refers to one’s sexual desire being interrupted.

If you have sexual anorexia, you will tend to avoid, dread, or fear sexual intimacy. In some situations, this medical condition can also be referred to as inhibited sexual desire, sexual aversion, or sexual avoidance. Sexual anorexia can be experienced by both genders (sexual anorexia is one of the sexual dysfunctions in men and women) — causing physical challenges in men, sexual anorexia can lead to impotence. However, it usually doesn't have any physical cause.

What causes sexual anorexia? Physical problems such as exhaustion or other problems resulting from emotional or sexual abuse can stem one’s sexual desire. Dealing with a personality disorder like an avoidant personality disorder, which is characterized by low self-esteem, can also cause sexual anorexia. Also, an avoidant personality disorder can be called intimacy anxiety disorder which may affect both men and women starting in childhood.

Can my borderline personality disorder cause fear of sexual intimacy? Living with a personality disorder is never easy. It's a serious psychological illness involving unstable emotions, behavior (including sexual behaviors), relationships, and moods. Borderline personality disorder can be caused by brain structure, family history, and negative experiences or sexual issues (trauma, sexual health problems, or neglect).

Sometimes, a disorder such as borderline personality disorder can distort your views on sexual intercourse. It is important to seek treatment from mental health professionals for your intimacy issues while also following a health treatment plan for your BPD.

Intimacy is a deep subject, and having a fear of forming strong intimate relationships can be hard on you. Studying medically reviewed research and seeking professional help from your doctor can also be challenging. But learning how to overcome your fear of intimacy will change your life. Therefore, you should follow these steps and seek out help to understand why you feel this way, and how you can overcome this fear so you can live a happier life.

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