If you’ve developed a fear of sex, it can have a significant impact on your romantic relationships as well as your overall well-being. Avoiding physical intimacy tends to make us withdraw from the people we like and can lead to relationship issues, low self-esteem and reduced quality of life.
But where does the fear of sex actually come from? And what can you do to overcome it?
In this article we will address:
- How the fear of sex works
- How avoidance keeps the fear of sex alive
- 3 Steps to overcome it
How the fear of sex works
Anyone regardless of age, sex, gender and sexual orientation can develop a fear of sex. Sometimes people don’t know how it started, just that it’s there. Here are some examples of things that can cause sexual anxiety:
Unpleasant and traumatic experiences
If a past sexual experience was unpleasant, painful or traumatic, fear develops as a defense mechanism to protect us from going through it again. Perhaps you felt nervous or pressured so you couldn’t enjoy the moment, or vaginal dryness caused uncomfortable chafing. Sexual abuse leads the mind to link sex and intimacy with feelings of helplessness, despair, and fear of death. If you’re a survivor of sexual assault, Leda Health offers trauma-informed care solutions for fellow survivors.
Fear of the unknown
Sometimes, the fear of sex develops before the first sexual experience. Anxiety pops up out of not knowing what to expect in the future. And when anxiety is involved, it’s harder for our bodies to feel sexually aroused when the time comes. Fear is a biological counter to desire: when we are fearful, our bodies get ready for fight or flight. Starting a new relationship can also make us feel anxious or pressured to try something new in the bedroom that we may not be ready for or feel comfortable with.
Pressure to meet expectations
It’s not uncommon to feel worried about satisfying our partner sexually, which may grow into a general fear of sex. For people with penises, this may manifest itself through erectile dysfunction. And people with vaginas may sometimes feel pressured to fake an orgasm to make their partner feel good about themselves. In addition, society imposes unrealistic standards for beauty and fitness on us individuals, and when we feel we don’t meet them, it can make us uncomfortable being naked in front of someone else.
Perhaps you already know why you have a fear of sex. And there is likely more than one thing that has led you to feel this way. But if you’re in the dark about how this happened, it can be helpful to talk to someone you trust as well as seek professional help. Psychotherapy and sex therapy are great resources to learn strategies to overcome anxiety surrounding sexual situations.
No matter where your fear comes from, avoidance behaviors may be increasing your anxiety of sex.
How avoidance keeps the fear of sex alive
When we avoid the things we fear, we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to move forward and overcome our fears. So in this case, it means avoiding sexual situations, physical intimacy which we think may lead to sex, and romantic relationships in general.
By avoiding these situations, the fear grows bigger in our minds, triggering greater anxiety the more we think about it. Then it becomes a non-stop loop that reinforces itself each time we avoid it.
Avoiding the things we fear makes us miss out on new and potentially enjoyable experiences. However, these very experiences can help override the old negative ones that caused the fear in the first place. So, here are some ways you can start small in addressing your fear of sex and intimacy.
3 Steps to overcome the fear of sex
1. Explore pleasure alone
Many studies show that masturbation brings a wealth of physical and mental health benefits. It’s an opportunity to get to know yourself and your body better. Masturbation is helpful for overcoming the fear of sex by removing a partner from the situation and giving you the opportunity to tune in completely to your own thoughts, fantasy and desires. When you do have partnered sex again, you may find it easier to express your wants and needs in the bedroom thanks to your experience with self-pleasure.
2. Open up
Although it may be difficult at first, opening up about your fears and how they impact you and your sex life can help tremendously.
If you have a partner that you can share your experience with, you can work together to move forward, step-by-step. To slowly reintroduce physical intimacy and pleasure into your relationship, you can try the Sensate Focus exercises created by Masters & Johnson. This is a sex therapy technique for couples to overcome anxiety and build trust by removing pressure and expectations and focusing instead on pleasurable sensations.
3. Give yourself time
Although you may feel in a rush to conquer your fear of sex ASAP, know that these things take time and practice, so be gentle and patient with yourself. Give yourself space to reflect on where this came from and take steps to overcome your anxiety, but don’t rush anything. Some find it helpful to start back at square one with sensual touches and slowly build up to penetrative sex again as confidence grows.
It’s natural to feel overwhelmed by this, especially if your fear stems from a traumatic experience. Don’t hesitate to seek psychological support to help you along your journey towards recovery if you feel it would be helpful.