Understanding The Fear Of Sexual Intimacy

Updated August 22, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention topics that may be sensitive, including sexual abuse and rape. If you have been impacted by concerns like these, you can find confidential support via The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

The fear of sexual intimacy is referred to as genophobia, or sometimes erotophobia. Intimacy avoidance is often a reaction to childhood experiences such as abuse, but it can stem from numerous sources. The fear of intimacy can create adverse effects on the relationships in a person’s life, particularly when they want to develop a healthy connection. It can be important for individuals living with a fear of sexual intimacy to work through it so they can experience meaningful intimate relationships. Read on to understand more about this phobia and potential steps to take to manage it better.


A Fear of Sexual Intimacy Can Indicate Something Deeper

There are numerous reasons a heightened fear of sexual intimacy could develop. Some primary causes are sexual assault or molestation, negative body image, and cultural teachings. Medical issues and fear of performance can also play a role in genophobia. It should be noted that sometimes this phobia can occur with no direct cause besides a deeply rooted fear, which can be the most difficult of cases to resolve. Figuring out the personal causes of this phobia is often the first step to understanding and overcoming it.

Body Image

The perception a person has of themselves can heavily influence how they feel about allowing sexual vulnerability. A person may experience genophobia out of personal fear of revealing themselves sexually to another person due to their own negative self-perception. This can stem from a fear of rejection or abandonment. Having a distorted body image can lead to a fear of sexual intimacy.

Sexual Trauma

When a person has sexual trauma, they often experience deeply rooted issues and repercussions that go far beyond that one single incident. Following a sexual assault of any sort, there is often a severe psychological effect on the survivor. Rape trauma syndrome (RTS) is a common reaction, similar to that of post-traumatic stress disorder. RTS works through a three-stage process: acute trauma, reorganization, and then resolution. Unfortunately, a phobia can form during the reorganization phase of the healing process.

One symptom that may present with genophobia is a fear of being physically touched. So, it should be noted that if panic arises when experiencing an act of sexual contact, this can be a potential sign of genophobia. Childhood sexual abuse is a common cause of genophobia, creating discomfort for individuals later in building healthy sexual relationships.

Cultural Influences

Many religious groups look down on sexual actions before certain moments of a person’s life take place, such as marriage. Upholding these beliefs does not mean you have a phobia, but one can form if these practices are changed or not followed. Extreme fear or guilt due to this change can induce a fear of sexual intimacy. This sort of lifestyle turmoil can lead to an intense, heavy-weighing fear of sexuality and anxiety about intimacy.

Fear For Health

Many individuals may associate sexual activity with certain physical risks, such as diseases, pain, or pregnancy. These elements can provoke severe fear for those who are concerned about their health. Other phobias focused on health can increase these fears.

When working to process this phobia, it can often be important to focus on health risk prevention methods when performing sexual intercourse. Precautions such as utilizing STD testing, birth control, and condoms are all methods of safekeeping your health and easing your anxiety. Health fears can lead to genophobia in those who have a predisposition towards that type of fear.

If your fear is of the pain that might be involved, it might help to avoid perceiving sex the way it’s portrayed in the likes of pornography and movies. Sex can look like many different things for different people, and it certainly does not have to inflict any pain or discomfort upon you or your partner. Rewiring your perception of sex away from what pornography portrays it to be can greatly reduce your anxiety. 

Performance Anxiety

Individuals who haven’t had many sexual encounters might experience a fear of not being able to satisfy the other person during sexual intercourse. This very normal fear can worsen and evolve into anxiety when not properly worked through. A severe form of performance anxiety can develop into genophobia, which itself can grow as time passes, deterring individuals from sex. This performance anxiety and fear of not being able to offer sexual satisfaction can impair someone’s ability to experience and enjoy intimacy.

Symptoms Of Genophobia

The fear of intimacy and all that follows is usually the basis of genophobia. Some general symptoms are breathlessness and dizziness when one thinks about intimacy. When the fear begins to set in, a person may begin to feel nauseous and sick to their stomach. These symptoms might present even during simple conversations that refer to sexuality or the sight or concept of nudity. So, if the idea of sexual intimacy, nudity, or intercourse brings about these symptoms, then there is a chance genophobia is at play.

Overcoming The Fear Of Sexual Intimacy: Working To Accept Your Body

Getty / Maskot
A Fear of Sexual Intimacy Can Indicate Something Deeper

If insecurities about your body are one of the primary factors leading to genophobia, becoming confident in your skin may be a critical factor in diminishing its effects. Working towards self-acceptance is not always an easy feat, but there are quite a few methods that can assist in the process.

A great coping mechanism for low self-esteem may be to practice mindful meditation. Meditation can be an ideal centering technique, helping you calm your mind and sift through feelings of judgment. You can practice alone in a quiet location or work with a guide and follow their directions throughout the process.

You can also consider writing in a journal about the thoughts and anxieties experienced while living with genophobia. Journaling about it can have two main benefits. The first is to provide documentation of the thoughts and beliefs related to the phobia, which can be offered to a therapist for more personalized treatment later down the road. Secondly, it might offer an outlet to help assess the internal mechanisms of the phobia and better dissect what may be driving it so that you can respond accordingly.

Developing awareness can overall be an essential tool for improving self-esteem. Living in the moment and taking in the world around you through a more positive perspective can truly change a person’s outlook from the outside in. These are not changes that usually happen overnight, but with time, a conscious effort, and proper treatment, they can be possible. 

Types Of Professional Treatment

There are a variety of methods of treatments for genophobia based on your personal needs. Cognitive behavioral therapy, in particular, is often an effective treatment for specific phobias like genophobia. If the case of genophobia stems from trauma, then treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitization And Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy may be utilized. The source of the fear typically determines the method of treatment.

Overall, genophobia is treatable and can be overcome with the right method and efforts. Someone living with this fear can reach a point where a healthy intimate relationship is possible.

Getting Treatment

Working with a professional may be one of the most effective ways to overcome a specific phobia like genophobia. Sometimes this professional is specifically a sex therapist or a therapist who specializes in phobias. No matter what, genophobia can be a complex condition that is often difficult to address due to its common ties to pain and trauma, so utilizing a therapist can be very helpful. 

Speaking to a therapist online might make it easier to discuss challenging topics and get to the heart of a potential fear of sexual intimacy. Online therapy can allow you to join sessions from the comfort and safety of your own home.

Research also shows that online therapy can be more cost-effective for clients than traditional, in-person therapy. Saving money might make it easier to connect with a licensed therapist who can help you reframe the negative thought patterns that may be leading to genophobia.

Preparing for your sessions by writing down a list of symptoms, causes, and other important concerns surrounding the phobia can help with treatment; for a therapist to assess and address an individual’s personal experience with genophobia, they typically need to have a clear understanding of the symptoms and thoughts that are tied to the fear at hand. Writing in a journal can be another good preparation step for discussing genophobia with a therapist. It is often helpful to have a plan of action to introduce the symptoms associated with this phobia, so taking the time to write out key components, like causes and symptoms, can be very beneficial.


If you’re living with genophobia, know that you can work through your fears and develop a healthy relationship with intimacy with the right support. Understanding where your fear may stem from is usually the first step toward facing and overcoming it. 

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