The Best Ways To Cope With Fear Of Sex (Genophobia)

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated April 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact theDomestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Free support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Romantic relationships encompass various aspects, each with its significance. Sexual intimacy is often included in many close connections, drawing couples closer and promoting emotional closeness. However, for some people, past sexual abuse or childhood sexual abuse might lead to a fear of sexual intimacy, called genophobia. This fear can impact their ability to enjoy physical closeness in relationships, regardless of urge or desire.

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Coping with fear of sexual intimacy is possible

The fear of sex and how to cope

A phobia is a marked fear of a specific object or situation that can negatively affect an individual's life. Fear of sex, clinically referred to as genophobia, also known as coitophobia or erotophobia, can cause individuals not to want to engage in sexual intercourse or any sexual acts whatsoever. This phobia may arise from underlying causes, such as child abuse, body shame, or emotional problems.

Genophobia is different from asexuality, a sexual orientation characterized by a lack of sexual attraction. Asexual people are not necessarily afraid of sex and may or may not partake in sexual activity. Asexuality is not a mental health condition.

Though genophobia isn't listed in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) by the American Psychiatric Association, it can be considered a specific phobia that falls under the category of anxiety disorders. Some individuals may struggle with physical or emotional intimacy due to specific fears. Fears related to intimacy, such as gymnophobia (fear of nudity) or philophobia (fear of love), are specific examples of how deeply fear reactions can influence personal connections. 

Though having some apprehension or nerves can be normal when engaging in a sexual encounter, intense feelings of fear, such as heart palpitations, may signify a more profound concern. Those with genophobia may experience panic attacks or dread when confronted with a sexual situation or thinking of the idea of intimate sex.

Sex is often a pleasurable activity enjoyed by everyone involved. However, sexual challenges like genophobia can make it challenging to connect sexually, even if you feel sexual attraction. You may struggle to have emotionally close relationships due to your fears.

Genophobia may be managed with therapy, such as seeing a sex therapist, prescription medications, or a combination. Though physical intimacy may be challenging to experience, do not push yourself until you are ready. Consent means enthusiastic and enjoyable sexual agreement. If you are afraid, you may not feel able to consent.

Symptoms of genophobia

Symptoms of any phobia might vary from person to person. However, you may experience all or some of the following symptoms:

  • Increased heartbeat

  • Shortness of breath

  • Crying

  • A strong urge to avoid sexual encounters, relationships, or intimacy

  • Irritability

  • Intense shame or general fear of sex or sexually related topics

  • Insomnia

  • Panic attacks or anxiety

  • Physical symptoms, such as shaking or nausea

  • Genital pain or sexual dysfunction, like erectile dysfunction or difficulty with vaginal penetration

These symptoms can stem from underlying causes, such as past trauma or negative associations with one's body. Addressing physical or emotional challenges related to these symptoms is essential for sexual satisfaction and overall well-being.

Causes of genophobia

At times, phobias are a direct result of trauma. Other times, they may be caused by life circumstances or personal motives. The following are potential causes of genophobia. 

Sexual assault 

Sexual assault can be traumatizing and is often a cause of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You may feel violated, scared, or physically harmed after an assault. Survivors of traumatic sexual encounters may struggle to trust romantic partners or have strong averse feelings toward physical intimacy. They may develop a marked fear of sex. 

According to the American Psychological Association, everyone handles the aftermath of sexual violence differently. Some people may partake in sexual activity more often to cope with their trauma, while others may do the opposite and experience a decrease in their sexual desire. If you're a survivor of sexual assault, you may become less trusting of people or develop genophobia. Even if a future encounter is consensual, you may feel scared or worried that you could find yourself in the same situation.

Though it can be challenging to speak about your sexual assault, it may allow you to get support and cope with the trauma it caused. 

Childhood trauma 

You may not remember a traumatic childhood experience in detail but might still have an unconscious fear of sex because of it. Childhood trauma may look different for everyone, affecting trauma survivors in various ways.

Trauma may be due to emotional, verbal, physical, psychological, or sexual abuse. You may have been put into situations or had experiences that made you uncomfortable, such as an unwanted sexual encounter. Abuse or neglect during childhood could also lead to sexual anxiety or genophobia, contributing to sexual issues later in life.

Treating trauma survivors with appropriate therapy and support can help address the physical component and emotional aspects related to their fear of sex.

Insecurity 

Body insecurities may cause difficulty with sex. Anyone of any gender may experience body image issues, which might lead to sexual performance anxiety. Being naked around a person can feel intimate, and being afraid about their perception of your body can be common. 

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo

A partner may not offer support, which may cause worsening fear. You may also feel pressured by your partner to show them your body. While you're having sex, you might feel unable to enjoy the encounter because of your insecurity. 

Religious or cultural upbringing 

Sex may be a taboo topic in many religious teachings. If you were raised to believe that sex should only be reserved for procreation and not pleasure, it might be challenging to dispel those beliefs. In addition, the pressure from cultural factors, such as the value placed on staying pure or the taboo of talking about sex, can also make it difficult for someone to be comfortable with their sexuality.

Even if you don't participate in your religion anymore, you may still experience thoughts and fears when you're in an intimate situation, even with someone you have an emotional connection with. If you are still religious, you might wish to abstain from sex due to these fears. 

Fears 

At times, genophobia may be the byproduct of another fear. For example, you may have a fear of nudity or fear of contracting an STD. Additionally, you might be afraid of being hurt during sex or becoming pregnant. Other phobias may play into genophobia. 

Mental health concerns 

Mental health conditions could lead to fear of physical acts or impaired sexual relationships. You might experience fear of sex due to an anxiety disorder, trauma, an eating disorder, or body dysmorphia, for example.

Painful sex 

Feeling pain during sexual intercourse (dyspareunia) may be common. However, painful sex can indicate an underlying issue. If you have developed an aversion to sex due to genital pain, seek professional medical advice to rule out health problems. Genital pain may also be caused by trauma or trauma-related mental health disorders.

How do you move forward with genophobia?

There may not be one specific cure for genophobia. It may take time and effort to work through, like most specific phobias. However, phobias can be treatable, and finding the right genophobia treatment may make a difference. 

Find the cause 

Look at the common causes of genophobia listed above. Have you had any experience or insecurity that could be the cause of your fear? You may also want to reflect on what seems to trigger your fears and keep a record of how certain situations involving sex affect you. 

Try to avoid your triggers as you work through treating your phobia. Sex is a sensitive topic and activity, and you may find yourself retraumatized if you force yourself into it too soon. 

Overcome insecurities 

If you feel your genophobia is caused by insecurity, try working on self-acceptance and self-love. Surround yourself with people who won't put you down for your insecurity. If your partner is hostile toward your body or makes you feel unattractive, you may decide you no longer find the relationship healthy. 

If your partner understands, open up to them about how you feel. Let them know if you have any sexual boundaries. For example, you might only want to partake in sex with clothes on for some time. By having an open line of communication, you may be able to work together to feel more comfortable in intimate situations.

iStock/andreswd
Coping with fear of sexual intimacy is possible

Get to know your body 

You may want to get to know your own body better. What makes you feel sexy, what are your turn-ons, and what elevates your sexual desire? Knowing what you like may allow you to communicate with your partner.  

You may also try a guided meditation to help you relax and tune in to how your body feels and how you feel about your body image. Studies show that meditation can increase self-compassion.

Communicate with your partner 

If your genophobia is due to past trauma, try to talk to your partner about it. If there's a reason you're struggling, they may be able to relate or understand in more depth after communicating. 

Having someone you can trust and communicate with safely may make a huge difference in recovering from past traumas. If your partner is patient with you and doesn't push you into sexual activity, you may feel safe to try new activities when you're ready. 

Try counseling for phobias 

Overcoming specific phobias like genophobia may feel difficult on your own. Enlisting the help of a licensed therapist may move the process along so that you can recover with greater ease and productivity. Getting advice from your friends or loved ones can be helpful, but guidance from a licensed therapist can help you get to the root cause of the problem and begin to heal from it. They might even suggest a homework assignment to help you practice overcoming your fears.

If you're uncomfortable leaving home for an appointment or find that you'd feel safer in your own home, you might consider trying online therapy. Online therapy can be an effective treatment for specific phobias. One study looked at the efficacy of internet-delivered treatment for phobias and found that the intervention successfully reduced anxiety symptoms. The study also showed that participants experienced fewer fearful emotions and were less prone to believing catastrophic thoughts in the long term.

If you're ready to try online counseling, consider an online platform such as BetterHelp, which may connect you to various counselors specializing in different mental health challenges. 

Working with a therapist may also help you become more comfortable and explore your relationship with your body. 

Marsha Perfetti-McIntosh, LCPC

Marsha has been absolutely amazing. She helped me to make a clear written plan to help me with intimacy issues and has been supportive when I had good and bad weeks. She is so relatable and comforting in situations that could otherwise be awkward with another counselor. I can't express how much she has helped me, and I hope to continue to work with her in the future. Thank you so much, Marsha!”

Takeaway

Genophobia doesn't necessarily mean that you can't enjoy sexual intimacy in the future if you want to. Talking to people who care about you, whether friends, family, or a mental health professional, may be beneficial. 

If you're ready to take the first step toward therapeutic healing, consider reaching out to a counselor.

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