Both men and women can suffer from a fear of intimacy and sex; and is not so uncommon as you might think. However, different people suffer from this over different reasons.
Love by any definition of the word (kindness, affection, respect, sensitive attunement, and shared companionship) is not only hard to come by, but strange as it may seem, it is even more difficult to accept and tolerate. Most of us say that we want to find a loving partner but what we wish for in fantasy is not necessarily what we would tolerate or accept in real life. The experience of real love often threatens our self-defenses and triggers our anxiety as we become vulnerable and open ourselves up to another person. This can lead to a fear of intimacy. Falling in love not only brings excitement and fulfillment; it also creates anxiety and fears of rejection and potential loss. For this reason many people choose to pull away from loving relationships.
Early in life, when we experienced rejection and emotional pain, we began to rely heavily on fantasizing about relationships as a coping mechanism. Overtime, we came to prefer to rely on these fantasy relationships over actual personal interactions and positive acknowledgment. After being hurt in our earliest relationships, we fear being hurt again and are reluctant (read: scared) to take another chance on being loved.
The negative feelings we developed toward ourselves in our early years, became an accepted part of who we think that we are. So, when someone is loving and reacts positively toward us, we experience a conflict within ourselves between their view of us and our core identity. We then respond with suspicion and distrust because our fear of intimacy has been triggered.
Existential issues can also negatively impact our capacity to accept love and enjoy loving relationships. When we feel loved and admired, we start to place greater value on ourselves, and in appreciating and valuing our lives more, we consequently face more pain related to the inevitability of death. We fear both the loss of our loved one and of ourselves, and in the process often unconsciously pull back from a love relationship.
Even though the fear of intimacy is a largely unconscious process, we can observe that effect on our behavior. We see it when we push away our partner and are resistant to their affection or positive acknowledgement. At that point, when we withhold the positive qualities our partner finds most desirable, we are making ourselves less lovable. Our distancing behaviors act to lower our anxiety, preserve our negative self-image and ultimately maintain our psychological balance.
We can recognize the behaviors that are driven by our fear of intimacy and challenge these defensive reactions that prevent love. We can remain vulnerable in our love relationship by resisting to retreat into a fantasy of love or engaging in distancing and withholding behaviors. We can maintain our integrity, learn to “sweat through” the anxiety of being close without pulling away, and gradually increase our tolerance for being loved. By taking the actions necessary to challenge our fear of intimacy, we can expand our capacity for both giving and accepting love.
Of course, this is just one way of addressing the fear. What about people who have just had bad experiences because their partner was either too big, too clumsy (read:inexperienced) or too rough? This can instill a form of trauma in a young woman’s mind and prevent her from being able to enjoy sex the way she should. My advice would be to not be so harsh on yourself, and to not settle for a partner who is not willing to take his time and be patient with you. I know it can be intensely frustrating not to be able to get over that obstacle in your head but it’s not impossible to. Communication between partners is key; if it hurts, don’t keep on. Find different ways until you become more confident. In this day and age it’s kind of crazy to think that the ‘real’ act of sex is still considered to be penile penetration, when there is so many more different ways to make love. Once those areas have been explored, who knows, it might just be a lot easier to relax and move onto the more ‘basic’ way of sex. After all, sex is meant to be pleasurable and a major way to connect to another person.