Coping With the Fear of Kissing

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What Is Philemaphobia?

Philemaphobia, or philematophobia, is the fear of kissing. It is common among young and inexperienced kissers who are afraid of doing something wrong. In these cases, the anxiety is generally mild to moderate and dissipates quickly as the person gains experience. Sometimes, however, philemaphobia is more severe and can occur at any age.

This article discusses some of the causes and symptoms of the fear of kissing. It also explores available treatments that may help and strategies that you can use to cope with your fear.

Symptoms of Philemaphobia

Symptoms of this phobia are similar to those of other types of other specific phobias. Your own experience may vary depending on the severity of your fear, but some common physical symptoms include:

  • Chills
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating

Emotional and behavioral symptoms are also common. This can include feelings of anxiety or panic when you think about kissing.

In some cases, you may stay away from any situation that might involve kissing. For example, you might avoid dating and relationships because you fear that these connections will require you to kiss your partner.

Complications

If fear of kissing causes people to avoid relationships, this can contribute to isolation and loneliness. People may desire a close romantic relationship but avoid contact with others because they worry about the intimate aspects of a relationship, such as kissing, touching, or sex.

Philemaphobia may also interfere with your ability to function in your daily life. You might find it challenging to work, go to school, or go out socially if you fear being kissed or encountering people who are kissing. 

Diagnosis

Philemaphobia is not recognized as a distinct condition in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition" (DSM-5), the tool that healthcare providers and mental health professionals use to diagnose mental disorders. If the symptoms meet certain criteria, you might be diagnosed with a specific phobia.

A phobia is more than just fear. In order to be diagnosed with a specific phobia, a person must experience:

  • Excessive, unreasonable fear
  • An immediate anxiety response
  • Extreme distress or avoidance

These symptoms must be life-limiting and affect a person's ability to function normally in important areas of life, including school, home, and work. They must last six months or longer and must not be caused by another mental health condition.

To make a diagnosis, your healthcare provider will ask questions about your symptoms' nature, duration, frequency, and severity. They may also perform a physical exam and order lab tests to rule out any medical conditions that might be contributing to your symptoms.

Recap

Philemaphobia is not a distinct condition in the DSM-5. However, symptoms of a fear of kissing may meet the criteria for a specific phobia. A healthcare provider can assess your symptoms, make a diagnosis, and then recommend treatment options.

Causes, Triggers, and Risk Factors

This fear is particularly problematic because it can affect social interactions and the ability to form romantic relationships. People who have a fear of kissing may also have a fear of sexual intercourse.

Fear of Germs

Philemaphobia is sometimes, but not always, related to the fear of germs. Some people worry about catching a disease, while others are disgusted by the concept of saliva. Many people who experience disgust regarding saliva have a similar reaction to other bodily fluids.

If your fear of kissing is connected to a fear of germs, you may not like "wet" kisses, preferring kisses on the cheeks or light pecks on the lips.

Fear of Bodily Odors

It is normal to be concerned about bad breath, especially when you expect to kiss someone special. But for those with bromidrophobia, or the fear of bodily odors, normal concern may turn to terror. No matter how much mouthwash or breath freshener you use, you may be afraid that your breath is unacceptable. Or that your partner's breath may not be.

Fear of Touch

Although it is rare, the fear of touch can have devastating consequences for those who experience it. If you are struggling with a fear of touch, kissing may feel like a violation instead of a pleasurable experience.

This can prevent you from having a deep personal connection with a romantic partner and be debilitating for someone who seeks this kind of connection without the normal vulnerability of personal touch.

Unaddressed Trauma

Unaddressed trauma can also be a cause or trigger for philemaphobia. This can include being shamed or punished for kissing, but it can also include being kissed or touched without consent, sexual assault, rape, or other traumas.

Fears of Intimacy and Vulnerability

The fear of kissing may stem from a more profound concern over intimacy or vulnerability. This fear is sometimes rooted in a fear of rejection, which causes people to worry about not being enough or about being disappointing or disgusting. As a result, they may avoid kissing in order to prevent being judged, hurt, or rejected.

Some people are more comfortable having sex, which they view as more impersonal than kissing, which they see as intimate.

These issues are complex and are best faced with the help of a competent, understanding therapist. Kissing can be a wonderful, fulfilling experience when the anxiety associated with philemaphobia is taken away.

Recap

Fear of kissing may be related to a fear of germs, bodily odors, touch, or intimacy.

Treatment

Treatments for specific phobias usually involve a type of psychotherapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This approach changes the underlying negative thoughts that create feelings of fear. Working with a therapist, you might identify the negative thoughts you have about kissing that create anxiety and then work to replace those thoughts with more positive, adaptive ones.

One component that can help treat phobias is known as exposure therapy. This process involves gradual exposure to the thing that you fear. At the same time, you'll practice relaxation techniques. Over time, feelings of anxiety and fear begin to recede.

In some cases, anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants may also be helpful. Such medications can help address some of the acute symptoms of fear you might be experiencing. They might also be beneficial if you have a co-occurring condition such as another anxiety disorder or depression.

Because fear of kissing may also be related to other emotional concerns such as problems with intimacy, treatment may also involve working with your therapist to address those issues.

Prognosis and Prevention

Phobias such as philemaphobia typically respond well to treatment. Research has found that CBT, when used on its own or in conjunction with another treatment, is highly effective in relieving symptoms of specific phobias. 

Technology-assisted CBT, which often utilizes virtual therapy tools, is also effective. The benefit of virtual treatment is that it is usually less stress-inducing than real-world exposure. And in the case of a fear of kissing, it offers opportunities for people to gain exposure without engaging in the behavior.

Because the fear of kissing often stems from a lack of experience or worries about performance, psychoeducation may be helpful when it comes to preventing or reducing anxiety. Learning more about kissing and understanding the underlying source of their fear can help people feel more secure and less overwhelmed.

Seek treatment for your fear of kissing. A therapist can help you retrace the origins of your fear and eventually assist you in overcoming it.

Coping

If you fear kissing, there are things you can do to help manage your fear and lower your anxiety. Relaxation strategies such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can be helpful when you are experiencing feelings of anxiety. These techniques help calm the body and alleviate some of the physical symptoms of the fear response.

If your fear is mild and primarily based on inexperience, you may find that it recedes on its own as you allow yourself to be exposed to kissing more.

You may choose to educate yourself on kissing, interact and gradually allow yourself to explore and practice kissing with someone you feel safe with who is aware of and sensitive to your fear, or you can practice the sensation on your own on your hand, wrist, or arm. More severe fears, however, may require professional assistance.

Like all phobias, uncomplicated philemaphobia responds well to various treatment options. If your fear is related to another phobia or deeper emotional concerns, your therapist will develop a treatment plan that addresses this.

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4 Sources
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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