Are you a victim of sexual phobia?

Are you starting to panic when you’re about to get intimate with a partner? Do sex scenes in movies make you uncomfortable? You think you have a special relationship with sex? Perhaps you are a victim of sexual phobia. This phobia concerns intimacy and everything that can be related to it.

couple enlacé - phobie sexuelle

1. What is sexual phobia?

Sexual phobia, or genophobia, is the intense and irrational fear of sexual relations. There is a fear of intimacy, contact and everything that accompanies sexual intercourse.

Other fears and phobias can accompany and reinforce genophobia:

  • nosophobia, which is the fear of being exposed to viruses, bacteria or other germs
  • gymnophobia, which is the fear of nudity (one’s own and/or that of others)
  • coitophobia, which is the fear of penetration, most often the fear of being penetrated

In general, all phobias that revolve around intimacy, contact and social relationships can present themselves in association with genophobia.

Most often, genophobia is about sex in general, but sometimes the phobia focuses on specific practices, such as oral sex or sodomy. A particular element of these situations causes intense anxiety that does not extend to the rest of the sexual relationship, which will be safe. It is possible, however, that the fear of this situation occurring during the sexual relationship leads to a total avoidance of sex.

2. How does sexual phobia develop?

As with all phobias (and other psychological disorders), several factors come into play and often add up to the creation of the phobia. However, there are certain elements that often come into play in the case of genophobia.

  • A traumatic event

The most common cause of sexual phobia is traumatic events related to sexuality. This includes abuse, assault or rape. These events are extraordinarily violent on the human spirit and often leave an impact that lasts over time. In these cases, genophobia is often associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), because the sexual situations are reminiscent of the traumatic event or events. The more violent the event or the longer the series of events, the higher the risk of developing PTSD and genophobia.
Not all victims of sexual violence develop PTSD or sexual phobia, but it can be a major contributor.

  • Persistent avoidance of the situation

One cause of the appearance and reinforcement of phobias is the avoidance of situations that make us anxious. Avoiding the situation reinforces the anxiety and each avoidance will accentuate it, leading to the appearance of a phobia. This avoidance can be caused by a natural first apprehension of sexuality or by other factors that make sex stressful.

  • Sexual performance anxiety. Some people have such strong performance anxiety that they come to avoid sex in general, which can develop into a sex phobia over time. These concerns may be related to erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, or perceived ability to be “good” in bed. The fear of being made fun of or not performing well enough causes very intense psychological pain that is associated with the idea of sexual intimacy.
  • Body image. Being ashamed of one’s body can lead to a fear of intimacy, as it will be associated with nudity and presenting one’s body to someone else, with the worry of being judged or mocked. Even without these negative reactions, a person with a high level of body shame will not enjoy the act, being more stuck in their shameful thoughts, convinced that their flaws are the only thing that comes out of the situation. Some people resort to avoiding sex altogether to spare themselves this pain, which can lead to genophobia.

3. How to identify sexual phobia?

The main criterion of sexual phobia, like any phobia, is the intense and irrational fear of an object or a situation, here the intense, irrational and disproportionate fear of sexual relations. The intense, irrational and disproportionate nature of the fear is decided by the context and the situation.

This fear must be persistent over time. It is not an isolated situation, but extends to all, or most, similar situations.

Avoidance is another important diagnostic criterion. In the absence of treatment, a person with a sexual phobia will avoid, as much as possible, all sexual situations.

Physical symptoms of anxiety often accompany exposure to the situation: nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, palpitations, sweating and clammy hands, a lump in the stomach and a tight throat, among others.

It is also important to differentiate between sexual phobia and asexuality, which are two very different things. In sexual phobia, there is a fear of sexual relations that causes difficulties in life. Asexual people, on the other hand, simply do not feel sexual attraction to others, without suffering or discomfort from it.


4. How to treat sexual phobia?

The recommended treatment for a sexual phobia is cognitive behavioral therapy, which allows the phobia to be extinguished through exposure.

Exposure consists of putting oneself in a situation, or facing a situation that causes anxiety. This anxiety will naturally come down and will allow the brain to learn not to be afraid of this situation anymore.

It can be difficult to achieve sexual phobia exposure with a traditional therapist. On the other hand, the use of a tool such as virtual reality can allow you to immerse yourself in an anxiety-provoking situation thanks to the headset and to carry out an exposure with much more ease.