Debunking Myths of the Mind

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7 Common But Hidden Fears About Sex

Is It Time To Face Your Sexual Fears?

The sexual impulse is exactly that: spontaneous, reactive, ever-present and a source of great comfort, excitement and motivation for many. Why then do so many people lose steam or avoid sex where it matters? While we generally attribute this to the aging body or boredom, when we take a closer look at the psychology and brain dynamics behind the phenomenon, several new hypotheses emerge. Consider the following:

1. Fear of repeated loss of performance: Many men often are fine with sex until that first fateful day when they are unable to perform in bed despite their best intentions. This sudden "failure" as it is experienced becomes a shock to the brain and a stigma of such shame that many men will dread subsequent sexual interactions. (Women feel this too but it is often easier to hide.) Their partners, especially if this is a long-term relationship, may worry initially but then ignore this. This avoidance of sex than becomes a ritual and the couple then settles into other activities. When fear is this powerful, it can become conditioned in the brain and the dread of sex is best dealt with by addressing it immediately rather than avoiding the fear of this repeating. Often tiredness, too much alcohol, distraction and worry can all contribute to this lack of performance.

2. Fear of inability to satisfy: Some partners are so afraid of losing their loved ones that all they do is focus on satisfying them without any interest in being satisfied themselves. They grow to convince themselves that they enjoy this and avoid being pleasured themselves because their fear of loss has chronically activated the fear center in the brain and this leads to rationalizations in order to protect them from loss. This much-admired self-sacrifice leads to a one-sided relationship and loss of the valuable opportunity of being pleasured as well.

3. Fear of intimacy: This is an obvious one, but not so obvious in manifestation. At the core, most people can tolerate a certain amount of intimacy. However, fear of intimacy often masquerades as preference. When people declare their attractions despite being "emotionally close" to someone else, that someone else can often offer the opportunity to be a life-long partner except that the emotional intimacy is so close that the physical intimacy is daunting. So people fragment their lives and choose the best "balance" but by ignoring your fear with the most emotionally intimate person in your life you may be giving up one of the most fulfilling experiences you could ever have. I often see this manifest as "he or she is like my brother or sister." I see this as a red flag of fear of intimacy and will often explore this with people when I can.

4. Fear of social disapproval: On the surface, many people are confident that they don't really care what other people think. Yet, unconsciously, people feel ostracized for not choosing public partners who are socially acceptable. For example, similar to the fear of intimacy example above, many people will fall in love with another person but be unable to face their attraction to them because they know that society will disapprove. In the most "reasonable" circumstances this may happen when the other person is slightly overweight, disabled, from a frowned-upon social background or class or from the same sex group. In all of these cases, the much-loved person is not chosen as a life partner because there are powerful unconscious fears that prevent them from being chosen. Getting over this irrational fear is important. While the initial fears are often borne out (parents may disapprove of same sex or "unsuitable" partners), you are the person who will be living with a person with whom you want to have a long-term relationship. Examine whether your fears are more tied to social disapproval than you think.

5. Fear of responsibility: This fear is more common than people think. Often people fear the burden of being responsible for someone else's emotional well-being. So when their partners need a certain degree of sexual intimacy to feel less-anxious for example, this may frighten them. As a result, they may avoid receiving pleasure, gifts or even interaction with them even though they have never experienced or sensed an intimacy that would be more suitable for a life-long relationship. So they avoid the relationship altogether because the relationship is threatening. Why, apart from a genuine desire not to be responsible for someone else's emotional well-being do people fear responsibility? This fear is also tied into the next fear.

6. Fear of disappointing others: People often fear responsibility because they hate the idea if disappointing others. Unconsciously, they feel as though they are not up to the job. Rather than face their own lack of self-esteem, they turn this into "I don't want to have sex." This often has nothing to do with the expectations of the other person. However, just the idea of disappointing others is a real buzz-kill for many people whose emotional vulnerability leads them to people they can easily please, but with whom, they will have no real intimacy.

7. Fear of death: Yes, yes. I know. You're probably thinking: this is some hidden nonsensical psycho-mumbo-jumbo, but it really is not. It is not a coincidence that the French refer to sex as "le petit mort" which translates to "a little death." Orgasm is the end of a brief life well-lived and stays in the brain as a metaphor of fear of death. Especially as people move on in years, this repeated death becomes a real fear and one that most people are not in touch with consciously.

Fears of sex are often not visible. They reside deep in the unconscious. For that reason, each of the fears above can take awhile to understand and reach. If you discard this understanding, you could be giving up an important and valuable experience in life.

 

Srini Pillay, M.D., is the author of the book: Life Unlocked: 7 Revolutionary Lessons to Overcome Fear. He is also an Assistant Clinical Professor at Harvard Medical School.

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