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.

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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
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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
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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.