The fear of sex

Fear of Sex (Genophobia) and Sexual Intimacy: Causes and Treatment

Fear of Sex (Genophobia) and Sexual Intimacy: Causes and Treatment

Medically reviewed by Janet Brito, Ph.D., LCSW, CST — By Jaime Herndon, MS, MPH, MFA — Updated on April 19, 2018


Fear of sex or sexual intimacy is also called “genophobia” or “erotophobia.” This is more than a simple dislike or aversion. It’s a condition that can cause intense fear or panic when sexual intimacy is attempted. For some people, even thinking about it can cause these feelings.

There are other phobias related to genophobia that might occur at the same time:

  • nosophobia: fear of getting a disease or virus
  • gymnophobia: fear of nudity (seeing others naked, being seen naked, or both)
  • heterophobia: fear of the opposite sex
  • coitophobia: fear of intercourse
  • haphephobia: fear of being touched as well as touching others
  • tocophobia: fear of pregnancy or childbirth

A person might also have general fear or anxiety about being emotionally close with another person. This can then translate into a fear of sexual intimacy.

Phobias involve a more marked reaction than simply not liking or being afraid of something. By definition, phobias involve intense fear or anxiety. They cause physical and psychological reactions that typically interfere with normal functioning.

This fear reaction is triggered by the event or situation that a person fears.

Typical phobic reactions include:

  • an immediate feeling of fear, anxiety, and panic when exposed to the source of the phobia or even thoughts of the source (in this case, a sexual encounter)
  • an understanding that the fear is atypical and extreme but, at the same time, an inability to minimize it
  • a worsening of symptoms if the trigger isn’t removed
  • avoidance of the situation that causes the fear reaction
  • nausea, dizziness, trouble breathing, heart palpitations, or sweating when exposed to the trigger

It isn’t always clear what causes phobias, even specific phobias. If there is a specific cause, treating that cause first is important. Various causes of genophobia might include physical or emotional issues:

  • Vaginismus. Vaginismus is when the muscles of the vagina clench up involuntarily when vaginal penetration is attempted. This can make intercourse painful or even impossible. It can also interfere with inserting a tampon. Such severe and consistent pain can lead to a fear of sexual intimacy.
  • Erectile dysfunction. Erectile dysfunction (ED) is difficulty obtaining and sustaining an erection. Although it’s treatable, it might lead to feelings of embarrassment, shame, or stress. Someone with ED might not want to share this with another person. Depending on how intense the feelings are, this might cause a person to become fearful of sexual intimacy.
  • Past sexual abuse or PTSD. Child abuse or sexual abuse can cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and affect the way you view intimacy or sex. It can also affect sexual functioning. While not every survivor of abuse develops PTSD or a fear of sex or intimacy, these things might be a part of some individuals’ fear of sex.
  • Fear of sexual performance. Some people are nervous about whether they’re “good” in bed. This can cause intense psychological discomfort, leading them to avoid sexual intimacy altogether for fear of ridicule or poor performance.
  • Body shame or dysmorphia. Shame of one’s body, as well as being overly self-conscious about the body, can negatively impact sexual satisfaction and cause anxiety. Some individuals with severe body shame or dysmorphia (seeing the body as flawed although, to other people, it looks normal) may avoid or fear sexual intimacy altogether because of the lack of pleasure and intense shame it brings them.
  • A history of rape. Rape or sexual assault can cause PTSD and various kinds of sexual dysfunction, including negative associations with sex. This might cause someone to develop a fear of sexual intimacy.

If there is a physical component present, such as vaginismus, this can be treated accordingly. Pain with intercourse is common. If left untreated, it might lead to a fear or avoidance of sexual intercourse.

If a physical cause is identified, treatment depends on the specific issue, and then any accompanying emotional component can be addressed.

Therapy for phobias typically includes psychotherapy. Various kinds of psychotherapy have been shown to be beneficial for phobias, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy.

CBT involves working on developing alternative ways of thinking about the phobia or situation while also learning techniques to address physical reactions to the trigger. It can be paired with exposure to the feared situation (in a “homework assignment,” for example).

A sex therapist can also be helpful for addressing genophobia. The kind of therapy in individual sessions depends largely on the underlying causes of the phobia and the specific situation.

The difference between a mild fear and a phobia is that a phobia has a negative impact on your life, affecting it in significant ways. Fear of sex can interfere with developing romantic relationships. It can also contribute to feelings of isolation and depression. Phobias are treatable with therapy and/or medication, depending on the situation.

A doctor can do an exam to see if there is a physical component to your fear of sex, and if so, help treat that. If there is no underlying physical aspect, your doctor can provide you with resources and referrals to therapists who specialize in phobias.

This condition is treatable. It is not something you have to face alone.

Last medically reviewed on April 12, 2018

How we reviewed this article:

Healthline has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

  • Mayo Clinic Staff. (2016). Specific phobias.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018). Erectile dysfunction.
  • When sex is painful: FAQ. (2017).
  • Wohl A, et al. (2018). Betrayal of the body: Group approaches to hypo-sexuality for adult female sufferers of childhood sexual abuse. DOI:
  • Zoldbrod AP. (2014). Sexual issues in treating trauma survivors. DOI:

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Medically reviewed by Janet Brito, Ph.D., LCSW, CST — By Jaime Herndon, MS, MPH, MFA — Updated on April 19, 2018

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Genophobia: Living with Fear of Sexual Intercourse

For some people, the mere thought of physical intimacy causes anxiety. But there are ways you can manage fears about sex.

When you’re afraid of sex — or even the thought of it gives you a rush of anxiety — you may be experiencing genophobia.

Phobias are intense and often irrational fears, but they can be managed. Learning more can be the first step in helping you manage fears of sex.

Genophobia is an intense fear of physical acts involving sexual intimacy. In other words, it’s a fear of sex.

You may only feel this way about sexual intercourse, or you may experience genophobia around any other physical expression of sex.

You may sometimes hear genophobia called coitophobia or erotophobia.

Erotophobia vs. genophobia

Genophobia and erotophobia are both used to describe “fear of sex.”

Genophobia, however, is specific to the fear of sexual acts or intercourse.

Erotophobia encompasses all things sexual — including fear of sexuality, fear of nudity, and fear of sexual fluids, among others.

Erotophobia can be used to describe genophobia, but genophobia can’t be used to describe all forms of erotophobia.

Genophobia isn’t listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) because all phobias fall under specific phobias, a type of anxiety disorder.

In other words, if you’re diagnosed with any type of phobia, it will be listed as “specific phobia.”

Specific phobias are defined as extreme, impairing fear responses to stimuli. In this case, sexual intercourse is the stimulus that causes anxiety and avoidance.

But phobias are more than just fears.

Everyone has fears, but phobias cause significant distress or impairment and can lead you to make major changes to avoid certain situations.

While it’s natural to feel fear in times of uncertainty, the fear response from a phobia is typically out of proportion to any actual threat.

Genophobia in men versus women

Anyone can experience genophobia, no matter how they identify.

Since it’s not a formal diagnosis, how often it occurs isn’t well-studied. Data does note that women in the United States are more commonly diagnosed with specific phobia than men.

According to a 2020 health and sexual survey, women were also more likely to experience sexual dysfunction.

Sexual dysfunction can be defined as any physical or mental condition that impacts your sexual response and experiences.

Phobia responses are often unique to each person. When you live with the fear of sex, you may have specific phobia symptoms as well as those related to other anxiety disorders.

Symptoms of genophobia may include:

  • immediate, intense fear or anxiety anytime sexual intimacy is thought of or engaged in
  • an inability to control the fear or anxiety even if you acknowledge it’s unwarranted
  • panic attacks
  • avoidance behaviors
  • irritability
  • sleep disturbances or challenges
  • difficulty concentrating
  • restlessness
  • nausea
  • headache
  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • muscle tension

Examples of genophobic behaviors

The fight, flight, or freeze response is part of your body’s warning system, and it serves a purpose. It can prepare you for facing threats and danger.

When facing such a threat, your fear response can lead you to confront it, freeze, or escape.

In genophobia, you may react in many ways as soon as you experience fear of sex. For example:

  • screaming or yelling at your partner during intimate moments
  • sabotaging relationships to avoid sex
  • not dating or being open to romantic relationships
  • making excuses not to have sex
  • consciously or unconsciously making yourself physically undesirable
  • acting unapproachable in social settings
  • freezing and being unable to move in a situation of sexual intercourse

Genophobia is just one of many sexual phobias seen in clinical practice.

Other phobias that may occur alongside genophobia, or have similar symptoms, include:

  • haphephobia: fear of physical touch
  • tocophobia: fear or childbirth or pregnancy
  • eurotophobia: fear of genitalia
  • gymnophobia: fear of nudity
  • philophobia: fear of falling in love
  • nosophobia: fear of disease
  • phallophobia: fear of an erect penis or aversion to masculinity

You can have an intense fear and anxiety about any aspect of sex, sexuality, and intimacy.

Research in 2016 suggests genophobia is often the result of trauma. This may include experiences related to:

  • sexual abuse
  • sexual assault
  • witnessing a traumatic event
  • pain during your first sexual encounters

Cultural and family expectations, as well as religious teachings, may also impact your response to sex.

Sometimes, though, there’s no identifiable cause for a phobia. This doesn’t mean what you’re experiencing is any less impairing than the phobia symptoms of someone with a history of trauma.

The DSM-5 indicates additional factors may influence the likelihood of developing specific phobia, including a combination of:

  • temperament
  • environment
  • genetics
  • physiology

Possible causes of fear of sex

  • conditions that make sex painful, like vaginismus or endometriosis
  • having insecurities about your body image
  • living with another type of anxiety disorder
  • being exposed to explicit sexual acts or media as a child
  • experiencing cultural practices, such as female circumcision
  • believing sex is directly related to negative spiritual consequences
  • being sexually assaulted

It may be challenging for some people to discuss their symptoms and fears and reach out for help.

It’s OK to start slow.

Talking with a healthcare professional can be a way to ease into the process of more involved therapy options. They’ll be able to explore any physical challenges that may be contributing to your fear of sex.

Like other specific phobias, genophobia treatment can involve psychotherapy and medication to manage symptoms.

The exact treatment method will depend on your history and current needs, but may involve cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications.

In CBT sessions, you’ll learn to identify the cause-and-effect relationship between your behaviors and symptoms of genophobia.

You’ll also be able to explore underlying causes, and create new behavioral patterns that can help you manage your fear and anxiety.

Genophobia is the fear of sexual intercourse and sexual acts.

It’s considered a specific phobia and is one of many types that people can experience.

Your symptoms can be managed with the help of a medical professional — you can improve your quality of life.

If you’re not quite ready to speak with someone in person about genophobia, consider starting the conversation with a trained counselor on the SAMHSA National Helpline at 800-622-4357.

If you need to talk about sexual violence, the RAINN hotline may help.

If you’re considering working with a mental health professional, this page can help.

"Fear can make you faint." Why people are afraid of sex

"Terrible things that will happen with intimacy"

Genophobia or coitophobia is an anxiety disorder that is a physical or psychological fear of intimacy and sexual intercourse.

According to psychiatrist and psychotherapist Konstantin Kovalev, people suffering from genophobia or fear of intimacy may experience severe anxiety when attempting sexual contact, and sometimes even at the mere thought of it.

“Despite the fact that genophobia is an acquired disorder, in some of its forms there is an innate genetic predisposition,” the expert notes.

At the same time, many people confuse the fear of intimacy with lack of sexual desire and asexuality, adds Tatiana Selezneva, a sexual health consultant and lecturer at the Moscow Institute of Psychoanalysis. So, a decrease in libido depends, first of all, on hormones, and in this case only a doctor will help solve the problem. An asexual is a person who does not experience attraction at all. He does not need sex, and the excitation mechanism is disabled. If he does have sex, it is only to please his partner.

“There is no fear in either case. And the genophobe experiences it, which is expressed in panic attacks, dizziness, heart palpitations, tantrums, and the like, ”says Selezneva.

At the same time, genophobia has different degrees of intensity - from feeling "out of place" to an irresistible desire to hide and hide, cutting off contact with other people and all of the above manifestations, psychologist Tatyana Serova confirms the expert's words.

Often, the genophobe cannot even clearly say what exactly he is afraid of, since such phobias are unaccountable and cannot be logically assessed.

“Even if the whole process of sexual intimacy is described to the genophobic and shown that it is safe in an adequate relationship with a partner, this is unlikely to destroy the fear. Phobias are subconscious programs, and therefore they are destroyed not by logic or reasonable explanations, but by methods of working with the subconscious,” says psychologist Serova.

Meanwhile, the phobia itself is no different from any other. As psychologist Yulia Levchenko explains, while with a phobia of spiders or claustrophobia, a person experiences a strong and disproportionate fear when arachnids are nearby, or being in a confined space, a person with genophobia experiences the same sensations during sexual practice. And the ability to control one's fear is lacking. Thus, the fear experienced by a genophobe is so strong that it completely deprives him of the opportunity to have sexual relations.

“When we talk about genophobia, we don't mean the 'light' sensations of the nerves that occur, for example, before the first sex. Genophobia implies a much higher anxiety response with extremely intense fear. A person with a phobia is sure that terrible things will happen to him during intimacy, ”the expert states.

At the same time, Levchenko points out, all this does not mean that a person does not have sexual impulses or even a desire to have sex. However, because of the fear it causes, these people will avoid sexual relations.

Causes of appearance

According to psychologist Tatyana Serova, it is not necessary to go through sexual trauma to form genophobia. Sometimes this is a consequence of a kind of upbringing or absorption by the impressionable mind of the words of an authoritative person, as well as a negative experience of peeping.

"Reinforcement from scenes from movies, news, and even rumors can fix distorted information in the mind and translate it into an unconscious program," the expert believes.

And notes that, fortunately, such susceptibility is not characteristic of everyone, therefore it rarely leads to pathology.

In most cases, genophobia has the same roots as any phobic disorder, explains sexual health consultant Tatiana Selezneva. Usually this is a negative assessment of other people or a negative experience. Nevertheless, there are cases when fear occurs regardless of any reasons.

“Scientists have not yet established why it appears in cases where there were no obvious prerequisites in the past. But on the other hand, psychologists have formed a “portrait” of a person who suffers from this phobia. As a rule, he is very sensitive, was dependent on his parents, ”says a teacher at the Moscow Institute of Psychoanalysis.

If we are talking about a phobia that has developed as a result of circumstances, there can be many reasons. Evidence-based psychologist and author of the Telegram channel “How I found out that I am an autist with ADHD” Vyacheslav Donin highlights the main ones: an attempt or a fact of rape, molestation, self-doubt.

So, according to the psychologist, in the first case, the victims, in addition to physical ones, are more likely to encounter intense emotional reactions. This phenomenon is called "rape trauma syndrome". Subsequently, they develop a fear of sexual relations due to mental and physical wounds.

In the case of corruption, things are a bit complicated. Most often, people are molested in childhood and do not understand this due to age, but the fact that they were talked about sex, showed pornography or genitals, leaves a huge imprint, Vyacheslav Donin is sure.

Children feel they have been used, and with age this trauma can lead to a phobia - a general fear of sexual intercourse.

In the third case, the psychologist notes, people simply do not like themselves.

“Many look at themselves naked in the mirror and are not delighted with what they see. Many notice flaws, and some become obsessed with the self-awareness of their body, ”says the expert.

Thus, in his opinion, women are more likely to suffer from imperfections in the breasts or labia. Men - from erectile dysfunction. And all these are also provoking factors.

The gender of the phobic also plays a decisive role. For example, the emergence of a phobia in a man is primarily influenced by home development, says Esther Vavilonskaya, a clinical psychologist, Ph.D.

If a child faced domestic violence, debilitating female suffering in the family, wrong talk about the female sex, was brought up by a misogynistic father, then in the process there was internal violence against himself. As a result - a complete rejection of sexual relations because of the fear of women, the expert assures.

Also, in her opinion, the emergence of genophobia depends on the characteristics of the ethnic group, social conditions of development and human life.

“The disorder can also develop due to the fact that in childhood the parents caught the child masturbating and getting to know their genitals. Because of this, there is a fear of imposed shame, which also manifests itself in adulthood, ”the doctor states.

Is it possible to live with this and how to overcome a phobia

According to psychologist Levchenko, unresolved sexual phobias can cause great damage to relationships and self-esteem. They influence how people see their relationships, themselves and their partner in them.

"For example, you may have an unconscious desire to deprive yourself or your partner (or both) of pleasure - even if your consciousness wants something else besides this," the expert explains.

Among other things, even when talking about sex or watching movies, a person with a similar problem begins to fuss and talk incoherently, adds clinical psychologist Esther Babylonskaya.

According to her, such behavior is often accompanied by hand tremors, excessive sweating, and feeling short of breath. If the source of fear disappears, then the person's condition improves. However, if it reappears, the psychological system becomes so blocked that the person develops heart pain, panic attacks, fainting, heart attacks, and even suicidal thoughts.

But one way or another, people with phobias rarely find the strength to turn to specialists for help, points out evidence-based psychologist Vyacheslav Donin. You can cope with the problem with the help of psychotherapy. Ideally, a narrower specialist is a sexologist. If anxiety is severe, you should contact a psychiatrist to prescribe the necessary antidepressants or auxiliary drugs.

“In the case of genophobia, the most effective method is cognitive behavioral therapy and acceptance and responsibility therapy. Practice shows that in 12-16 sessions this disorder goes away, ”the expert predicts.

A candidate of medical sciences Babilonskaya adds that the treatment will depend only on the variety of phobia, among which there are three: hostility, disgust and real fear. Only after dealing with this, specialists will be able to choose the necessary methods of treatment: psycho- or drug therapy.

“In the treatment of genophobia, it is very important to determine the real cause of its occurrence. If a person finds that very trigger in time, then a return to a normal sexual life is guaranteed for him, ”concludes the systemic family psychotherapist.

How to overcome the fear of sex (sexual failure expectation syndrome), overcome the fear of sex

: Reading time:

This article will be useful to anyone who has experienced fears in intimate relationships and wants to overcome them.

Sexual fears can lead to anorgasmia, premature ejaculation, inability to have relationships, loneliness, depression, and even suicidal attempts.

The most common fears are:

  • fear of not conforming to cultural or social norms
  • fear of rejection
  • fear of violence
  • fear of the unknown
  • fear of having sex and not living up to the other's expectations

Fear of not conforming to cultural norms

I was approached by a client who professed Islam. She complained of depressed mood and anxiety. The client studied at the university, was successful, worked, and maintained good relations with her parents.

I worked with her feelings and beliefs in a cognitive-behavioral and art therapy approach, which in such situations quickly help to achieve improvement. There was no result.

I was already thinking of recommending medical help, when a client admitted that she fell in love with a young man of a different religion, had a strong sexual desire, but suppressed it in herself, was ashamed and afraid. She felt confused, because she did not want to give up her faith and was sure that the young man would not accept her religion. She didn't know what to do.

We carefully analyzed the internal conflict, talked for a long time about her personality, values, ideas about happiness. This helped her make a decision.

Fear of sex - fear of not conforming to social stereotypes

The Internet and popular culture offer countless stereotypes that have nothing to do with reality:

  • "sex should last thirty minutes - no more and no less"
  • "my body must meet parameters 90-60-90 to be attractive"
  • "many sexual partners are a guarantee of one's own attractiveness"

In the recent film "I'm Losing Weight", a young man breaks off a relationship because of the girl's appearance, finds the "ideal of sexuality", but eventually loses love. And the heroine, through work on her body, comes to her real self, to the feelings that were hidden in the depths. She goes to meet her fears and eventually becomes herself, free from the opinions of others.

How to increase self-esteem

Fear of rejection

Fear of pain. I will open, but the other will not. I will love, and the other will devalue, take advantage, not notice, offend, reject, offend, will not feel, will not hear, deceive, will manipulate.

How to overcome the fear of sex? Love anyway, take the initiative, take risks - this is a strong position. The pain of rejection teaches you to value yourself.

Fear of abuse

A client who experienced sexual abuse many years ago could not open up and trust the partner she fell in love with. She did not find the strength to talk about it, because inside there was pain and unshed tears. She unconsciously feared repetition.

How to overcome the fear of sex? In such a situation, soft, delicate conversation, psychotherapy, work with psychological trauma and its consequences are useful. A person must form the position “it’s impossible with me”, “I can protect myself” - allow yourself to get angry, express emotions, recognize your own value, realize your own psychological resources.

Fear of trying new things

In couples with more experience, sex becomes less frequent, sensations become dull. Take a closer look - do you know everything about your partner? It is important to experiment, fantasize and implement. Couples who live new experiences together (travel, meet new people, engage in creativity) are more satisfied with their life together.

Couple Quiz: 6 Essential Questions

Fear of not meeting the expectations of another (sexual failure expectation syndrome)

A young married couple came to the reception. They complained about misunderstandings, conflicts, dissatisfaction in sex.

It turned out that each of the partners is focused on the ideal image of the other, which lives in his head. He more often mentally communicates with a virtual copy of a partner than with himself, and answers questions for him as he imagines. The woman wanted more clitoral stimulation and did not like the taste of sperm during oral sex, but she was afraid to say so, so as not to offend the man. The man sought to provide "dynamics", not really feeling what he wanted.

Don't be afraid to be "inconvenient" for others, only in this way you will become yourself.

How to get rid of the fear of sex

  1. Discuss your fears openly with your partner.
  2. If you are hesitant to discuss with a partner, talk first with a close friend or psychologist.
  3. Love and accept your body. Masturbation is normal!
  4. Study your body. How will a partner guess what I like about sex if I don't know it myself?
  5. Get to know another's feelings about sex and share your own. The partner will not be able to get into your head, and you - to him.
  6. Share sexual fantasies with each other.
  7. Adjust your beliefs, be flexible. Sex is normal, necessary, beautiful and useful.

    Learn more