Freeing yourself from your sexual phobia
How to free yourself from your sexual phobia?
We all want to feel loved and wanted, to feel sexual attraction, desire and joy. It is perfectly normal to feel attraction for someone. Sex and sensuality have the power to give us a sense of intimacy with another that nothing else can match. This bond is unique and secret. This is why it is so upsetting when fear takes over. Sexual phobia takes the form of refusing contact that might arouse your desire. The phobic person will even invent conflicts to disguise his or her refusal of sexual intimacy.
What is sex phobia?
Sex phobia is an intense and irrational fear of sexuality, which causes significant discomfort and has a significant impact on the sufferer’s life.
However, it would be more accurate to ask “What are sex phobias? There are in fact three main types of phobias related to sexuality.
Firstly, there is genophobia, which is the fear of having sex.
Then there is aphrophobia, which is the fear of feeling and having sexual desire.
Finally, there is erotophobia, which is the fear of people, objects or acts related to sex.
However, the most common is genophobia, and it is this one that we will develop here.
In this one, we will find a fear of intimacy and intimate contact, as well as of everything that accompanies sexual intercourse.
Other fears and phobias can be found alongside genophobia:
- nosophobia, which is the fear of being exposed to germs or other contamination,
- hypochondria, which is the excessive fear of catching diseases,
- gymnophobia, which is the fear of being naked and of seeing people naked,
- heterophobia, which is the fear of the opposite sex,
- coitophobia, which is the fear of penetrating or being penetrated most often,
- haptophobia, which is the fear of contact, of being touched and of touching others,
- tocophobia, which is the fear of pregnancy and childbirth,
Although genophobia most often concerns all sexual relationships, it is sometimes focused on a specific practice or situation.
How does sexual phobia develop?
Psychological disorders often have several origins, risk factors that combine until the disorder appears. In the case of sexual phobia, the risk factors are
- A genetic predisposition
If you are anxious by nature, if your parents are also anxious by nature, this may be a natural predisposition to anxiety disorders, of which phobias are a part. False beliefs can more easily take hold and turn into a phobia.
- An unsafe environment
If you grew up in an environment that emphasised the dangers of sex, talking more often about the risks of infection and pregnancy than the pleasures and benefits of healthy sex, this may have played a part in the development of a phobia, creating and reinforcing ingrained beliefs.
- A traumatic event
The most common cause of sexual phobia is traumatic events related to sexual activity. Abuse, assault or rape, for example. These events are unimaginably violent on the mind and often leave a lasting mark on functioning. In these cases, sexual phobia is often associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as sexual situations bring back memories of the traumatic event(s). The more violent the trauma or the longer the series of traumas, the higher the risk of developing PTSD and sexual phobia.
Not all victims of sexual violence develop post-traumatic stress or genophobia, but it can be a major contributor.
- Repeated avoidance of the situation
One of the causes of the appearance and maintenance of phobias is the avoidance of situations that scare us. Avoiding the situation reinforces the anxiety and each avoidance will reinforce this, slowly leading to the development of a phobia. This avoidance may be caused by a normal initial apprehension about sex or by other factors that turn sex into a source of stress.
Vaginismus is a psychological condition in which the muscles of the vagina involuntarily contract during penetration, which can make intercourse painful or impossible. It can also extend outside of sex and prevent the use of certain menstrual protection, for example. Vaginismus may occur as a result of trauma, along with genophobia, or it may be the result of persistent avoidance of sex that leads to the phobia.
- Erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation and other penile disorders.
Erectile dysfunction is the difficulty in achieving or maintaining an erection. Premature ejaculation, on the other hand, is defined as an ejaculation that will be judged as too early by the person, or more often by their partner. These medical conditions are highly stigmatised and can cause a great deal of shame for sufferers. Because of an unsympathetic partner or an internalized shame that leads to not talking about it, sufferers may also avoid sexual interactions, which can lead to genophobia.
- Sexual performance anxiety.
For some people, there is so much performance stress that they avoid sex altogether, which can develop into a sex phobia over time. These concerns may revolve around sexual disorders or dysfunctions, such as erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, or the perceived ability to be ‘good’ in bed. The fear of being ridiculed or underperforming causes a great deal of psychological pain that is linked to the idea of sexual intimacy.
- Body image
Body shame can lead to a fear of intimacy, as it is associated with nudity and showing one’s body to someone else, with the fear of being judged or mocked. Even without these reactions, a person with strong body shame will find it difficult to enjoy sex, preoccupied with shameful thoughts, convinced that their flaws are the only thing the other person sees. Some people come to avoid sex altogether, which can lead to sexual phobia.
Thus, many factors can contribute to the development of a sexual phobia. It is important to note that not all of these factors need to be present. For some people, none of these factors will be easily identifiable. They may be situations that have been forgotten and do not seem to have made an impression on your memory. For others, it may be the accumulation of small things over a lifetime that together build up the phobia.
Although this is something of great significance to some, knowing the cause of the phobia is not necessary to treat it well. What is important is to identify it.
How to identify sexual phobia?
As with any psychological disorder, sexual phobia can be identified by characteristic symptoms and signs. These are presented below. It is important to note that these (and the associated questionnaire) are an introduction to the disorder. They are not a substitute for professional advice. If you are in any doubt and wish to explore these issues, please do not hesitate to contact a mental health professional for assistance.
Having said this, the first criterion for genophobia, like any phobia, is an intense and irrational fear of sex.
Intense and irrational is judged by the context of the anxiety-provoking situation. A consensual sexual relationship with a partner that one likes may generate a little apprehension, if it is a first time for example. If this apprehension turns into a stomach ache so intense that it causes pain, if the prospect of this relationship causes a feeling of panic and the desire to flee the situation at all costs, even though there is no imminent danger, we can speak of irrational and disproportionate fear.
This fear must persist over time. The emotional response (fear) and behavioural response (flight) must be repeated several times to speak of sexual phobia.
Avoidance is another important diagnostic criterion. Avoidance can take many forms. It can be not flirting or trying to seduce, for fear of what it might lead to. Staying celibate, therefore, for fear of the sexual relationship. For people in a relationship, it may be a matter of refusing to have sex at all, at the risk of creating tensions in the relationship that will only cause further suffering. Avoidance can be more subtle. Some phobics have sex but suffer from dissociation during sex. They may feel as if they are in a daydream, or that they are seeing the situation from the outside, or that they are just forgetting that sex has taken place. Dissociation is a defence mechanism of the brain against strong emotions and is a serious sign of avoidance, as it is often associated with a form of trauma.
Physical symptoms of anxiety often accompany exposure. In some cases, the anxiety can escalate to a panic attack, with a feeling of choking, rapid breathing, a very high heart rate and a feeling of fainting or dying. This is a very intense and unpleasant symptom, but it is not a health risk. The person may feel as if they are dying, but this will not happen.
People with genophobia are aware that their fear is disproportionate. They sometimes describe it as ‘ridiculous’ or ‘not making sense’. Despite this, it is impossible for them to minimise the reaction, and for good reason. Fear is one of the most basic human emotions. It can be extremely intense to ensure our survival. In the case of a phobia, the learning mechanisms of fear have been pushed to the extreme, and reasoned thinking is overwhelmed by the intensity of the fear felt.
The fear must also cause significant suffering in the individual’s life to qualify as a phobia. The impact, whether personal or relational, must be sufficiently distressing to be noticed and wanted to change. For example, when a conflict arises between the desire to have sex and the fear of it, or the inability to have sex with one’s partner because of the fear.
It is also important to distinguish between genophobia and asexuality, which are two very different things. Sexual phobia is a fear of sex that leads to the absence of sex, whereas in asexual people there is simply no sexual attraction to others, without this being a problem. The phobia is going to be pathological because it is going to cause suffering. Asexuality is just going to be a natural variation of human sexuality that doesn’t mean a defect, abnormality or pathology.
Also note that if most of your sex has gone badly, because of partners who were not listening, or because of physical pain (which should not happen if your partner is listening), it is normal to feel apprehensive about sex. Sex should be a pleasant thing, a good time to share. It is important to talk about this with your partner(s) before the situation gets worse and the apprehension turns into avoidance.
If, despite listening to your partner(s), sex is still painful, or if you suffer from other discomforts during sexual relations, do not hesitate to contact a doctor, urologist, gynaecologist, midwife or another health professional adapted to your needs. They will be able to listen to you and help you. And if the professional you meet is not sympathetic, treat him or her like a hairdresser who has failed to cut your hair: find another one, don’t stop cutting your hair.
How to treat sexual phobia?
There are several ways to treat sexual phobia. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages and depending on your sensitivities, the method you choose will change. It is important to take the time to assess which method you feel is best for you, but also not to hesitate to try several methods to find the right one.
The following are some of the most effective management methods:
- Cognitive therapy: Based on the thoughts that can give rise to and maintain fear, cognitive therapy will seek to identify dysfunctional thought patterns and gradually modify them to bring about a more flexible, positive and realistic mental functioning. If the anxiety is mainly in the form of ruminations and few physical symptoms, this type of therapy may be the most appropriate.
- Behavioural therapy: For phobias of all kinds, exposure is the first-line treatment in behavioural therapy. Phobias are sustained by a vicious cycle of avoidance and anxiety reinforcement. By exposing oneself to the source of one’s fear long enough, the anxiety will eventually subside and by repeating this operation often enough (about 10 exposure sessions), the phobia will eventually disappear and avoidance is no longer the response behaviour to the fear.
It can be difficult to imagine exposure to a sexual situation in a therapeutic setting. Virtual reality can help in this case, by offering an immersive alternative to the first therapeutic step and allowing one to develop skills to cope with the phobia before facing it in real life.
- Mindfulness meditation: This non-spiritual meditation is an emotional management technique that allows you to detach from your thoughts and live more easily in the present moment. It requires regular practice but if your worries are not too intense, it can be a first-line treatment. It is also a good tool to practice in parallel with other types of therapy for more serenity in your sexual life and in your daily life.