What Is Erotophobia?

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What Is Erotophobia?

Erotophobia is a phobia or excessive and irrational fear of sex. This condition is often complex as people with erotophobia may be scared of sex in more than one way. For instance, they may fear the act of sexual intercourse (genophobia) along with having a fear of being touched (haphephobia).

It's important to note that erotophobia is not a simple aversion to sex, sex acts, or intimacy. The level of fear created by this condition causes very real distress.

Symptoms of Erotophobia

For a fear of sex to rise to the level of becoming a phobia, the fear must be excessive, irrational, create great anxiety or distress, and occur for at least 6 months. It's not simply "being scared of sex," which can be natural—and even expected—in some situations and for some people.

Signs that you or someone you love may have erotophobia include:

  • Having a strong negative attitude toward sex
  • Having a strong negative response to a sexual stimulus
  • Experiencing feelings of avoidance toward sex

If left untreated, someone with erotophobia may not only avoid romantic relationships but also other forms of intimate contact.

Underlying Fears

There are certain underlying fears that, if you have them, may be signs of (or even contribute to) an elevated fear of sex. They are:

  • Fear of intimacy: The fear of intimacy is often, though not always, rooted in a fear of abandonment or its twin, the fear of engulfment. Those who fear intimacy are not necessarily afraid of the sex act itself but are afraid of the emotional closeness that it may bring.
  • Fear of vulnerability: Like the fear of intimacy, the fear of vulnerability is often tied to a fear of abandonment or fear of engulfment. In this case, people are afraid that if they are totally themselves, others will not like them. Fear of vulnerability can affect all types of relationships, both sexual and non-sexual.

Related Phobias

People with erotophobia can have one or more phobias or fears related to sex. Here are a few to consider.

Genophobia

Also known as coitophobia, genophobia is the fear of sexual intercourse. People with genophobia may be able to begin romantic relationships and may quite enjoy activities such as kissing and cuddling but are afraid to move into a more physical display of affection.

Erotophobia vs. Genophobia

Sometimes the terms erotophobia and genophobia are used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. Erotophobia is a phobia of any aspect of sex (physical, emotional, or psychological) while genophobia is a fear of the physical act of sex.

Paraphobia

Paraphobia, or the fear of sexual perversion, can involve a fear of being perverted yourself or a fear of the perversion of others. Additionally, some people with paraphobia are able to enjoy sexual relationships that fit well within their personal moral code, while others are afraid that any form of intimacy might be perverted.

Haphephobia

Also known as chiraptophobia, haphephobia is the fear of being touched and can affect all relationships, not just those of a romantic nature. Some people recoil from even passing contact by a relative, for instance, while others are only afraid of more protracted touch.

Gymnophobia

Gymnophobia, or the fear of nudity, can appear in different ways. Some people are afraid of being naked themselves, others of people being naked around them. This phobia may co-occur with body image issues or feelings of inadequacy, although it can also occur alone.

Philemaphobia

Also known as philematophobia, the fear of kissing can have many causes. One potential cause is a concern over bad breath. Someone with a germ phobia may also develop this fear.

Diagnosis of Erotophobia

To be diagnosed with a phobia like erotophobia, certain criteria must be met. Criteria for a specific phobia diagnosis include:

  • Having a marked fear of a specific object or situation that is out of proportion or excessive and occurs for 6 months or more
  • The fear provokes an immediate response most of the time, often leading to avoidance of the situation or increased distress when the situation presents itself
  • The fear impacts other areas of the individual's life, such as socially or professionally
  • The fear is not a result of any other mental disorder

Causes of Erotophobia

While it isn't always easy to pinpoint a specific cause of erotophobia, some people may be at a higher risk of developing this phobia.

Sexual Abuse

Although not everyone with erotophobia has been raped or sexually abused, those who have been traumatized sexually are at increased risk of developing some form of erotophobia.

Other Trauma

People who have been through other types of major traumas also have a higher risk of developing anxiety disorders, including phobias.

If the trauma was physical, for instance, you may develop a touch-related erotophobia. Conversely, those who have been through psychological or emotional abuse may be more likely to develop intimacy or vulnerability fears.

Personal, Cultural, and Religious Mores

Many religions and societies frown on sexual intercourse except for procreation. Research suggests that there is a positive relationship between erotophobia and growing up in a religion with strong ideas around sex and what is appropriate.

If you have moved away from a restrictive background but are afraid to change past patterns of thought and action, you may be at risk of developing a phobia.

Sexual Performance Anxiety

Sometimes, it isn't actually sex that we fear. Instead, we may worry about our own ability to please a partner. Sexual performance anxiety is very common, affecting up to 25% of men and 16% of women, and can impact physical function during sex or inhibit sexual desire.

Age

Some researchers suggest that older people, such as those in older care homes, may develop erotophobia due to the perception that sex in this age group may be pathological or that it should not occur. This is often referred to as ageist erotophobia.

Physical Concerns

Some people worry that sex will hurt. Others wonder if they will be able to perform due to a physiological condition or sexual dysfunction. These physical concerns can contribute to the development of a sex-related phobia such as erotophobia.

Fears that have a legitimate medical basis are not considered phobias. However, some people experience fears that are far out of proportion to the reality of the situation. If your fear is inappropriate to the current risks, you might have a phobia.

Treatment for Erotophobia

Because erotophobia is so complex, seeking professional help is recommended. This professional can help determine what type of treatment remedies are needed, such as medication and psychotherapy.

Medication

Some practitioners prescribe medications to help reduce erotophobia symptoms in patients. Two drugs that are sometimes used for erotophobia treatment are:

  • Prozac (fluoxetine): a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) that can help regulate anxiety and mood
  • Xanax (alprazolam): a drug used to reduce anxiety

Other drugs for treating specific phobias include antidepressants, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), benzodiazepines, and beta-blockers.

Psychotherapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help ease specific phobias. This is a type of psychotherapy that involves identifying and changing thought patterns that negatively impact one's life.

Sex therapists are licensed mental health professionals who have completed additional training and certification in the treatment of sexual concerns. However, it is not always necessary to seek a sex therapist as most mental health professionals are capable of treating and managing erotophobia.

Depending on your therapist's style and school of thought, you may need to face difficult and painful memories in order to heal and move forward.

Combination Approach

Some patients get better results when combining medication and psychotherapy. When the appropriate avenues are pursued with both of these erotophobia treatment options, the ability to resolve this condition is promising.

Coping With Erotophobia

There are some things you can do on your own to help you better cope with erotophobia and its symptoms. For example, relaxation exercises and breathing control exercises can help reduce the anxiety that comes with an elevated fear of sex.

If someone you love has erotophobia, educating yourself about this condition can increase your understanding of what they are going through. If you are their partner, it may even help to attend their counseling sessions (if the therapist agrees and recommends it).

A Word From Verywell

There are several treatment options that can help relieve symptoms of erotophobia. Your doctor or therapist can help decide which ones are best for you based on the severity of your fear of sex and the impact that it is having on your life.

In the meantime, be patient with yourself and honest with your therapist. Over time, your fears will lessen and you can learn to enjoy your personal range of sexual expression.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association, 2013