Imposter syndrome is alive and well in the demisexual community, and the question of if we’re really demisexual or just afraid of intimacy is something that weighs on many of our minds.
So, we’re going to spend some time talking about what it means to be afraid of intimacy. We’ll look at the signs and symptoms, the causes, talk about some coping strategy and wrap it all up by discussing its relationship to demisexuality.
A fear of intimacy can have a tremendous impact on your life, especially when it comes to sexual and romantic relationships – much like demisexuality. There’s a lot of overlap and a huge margin for individual differences in things like values, norms and historical factors.
So let’s talk about this.
Before we begin
Keep in mind that any information provided in this post is just a guideline, some ideas and a way to further the conversation. It’s not meant to be a diagnostic tool or substitute for clinical treatment.
Seek professional treatment if you’re feeling significantly dissatisfied with your interpersonal relationships, if you deeply want to make a change or if something is bothering you so much that it’s having a negative impact on your life.
You’re in charge here. It’s okay to be demisexual, it’s okay to be afraid of intimacy. There’s nothing to be ashamed of if you think you’re both or neither.
You don’t owe anyone an explanation. Anyone who makes you feel otherwise doesn’t deserve you.
Sex vs. Intimacy
As a society we often lump sex and intimacy together, which just might be part of the reason this conversation is so hard to have.
Sex and intimacy are two different yet interconnected things. Intimacy may involve sex and sex may indeed be very intimate, but there is so much more to intimacy than just a physical act.
Types of Intimacy
Just like there are many types of attraction, there are also many types of intimacy is something that involves mutual vulnerability, openness, and sharing. It’s wrapped up in feelings of safety and acceptance. Simply, it’s a high level of connection and closeness between two people.
We can divide intimacy into four categories:
This refers to having a close, sensual relationship with someone. It can involve sexual and/ or romantic activities.
The hallmark here is the sharing of your innermost thoughts and feelings with another person.
This sort of intimacy involves sharing thoughts and ideas thought deep, meaningful discussions.
Formed through common activities and interests, shared experiences bring people together.
What does a Fear of Intimacy look like?
If intimacy is sharing close physical or emotional ties, being afraid of intimacy is a fear of becoming too close to people – of letting people see your true self.
Interestingly enough, this fear may present making a deliberate and conscious effort to avoid one or all forms of intimacy, or it might be something the person is completely unaware they are doing.
A fear of intimacy does not equal a lack of desire for intimacy. In fact, a person is is afraid of intimacy may deeply long for those relationships but find themselves unable to relate to people in the way they crave.
Signs someone is Afraid of Intimacy
This is certainly not an exhaustive list and honestly these behaviours can be attributed to many things, so take it for the possibly educational list it is meant to be and nothing more.
People living with a fear of intimacy may:
- have low self-esteem
- be perfectionists
- have trust issues
- be serial daters
- actively avoid physical contact or find it difficult to endure
- have a constant need for physical contact
- struggle to build or commit to close relationships
- have a difficult time expressing their needs
- be unable to share feelings or express emotion
- sabotage their most meaningful relationships
When push comes to shove, being afraid of intimacy is a spectrum (like most things we talk about here). Some people might be tremendously afraid and unable to form any intimate relationships, while others may only have mild symptoms.
A fear of intimacy can have a dramatic impact on a person’s willingness and ability to foster close friendships and pursue romantic relationships. This fear can increase an individual’s risk of loneliness and isolation, they might be prone to sabotaging their own meaningful relationships by being critical or overly demanding of their partner.
Risk Factors of a Fear of Intimacy
For this discussion we’re going to talk about risk factors, things that may make a person more likely to develop a fear of intimacy as opposed to causes.
Intimacy is a personal thing, and each person’s relationship with intimacy as a concept is going to be unique. We know that the way we see our world, relate to people around is and even experience intimacy is a complicated interweaving of many historical, social and situational factors that simply can’t be narrowed down to a single factor or event.
These risk factors often stem back to formative or childhood years. To the events that helped us learn whether it was safe for a child to trust, to be themselves, to share their honest thoughts and feelings with the most influential people in their life – parents, teachers, caregivers, even their peers.
Here are some risk factors that may lead to a fear of intimacy:
- Lack of boundaries in the family of origin
- Emotional neglect
- Verbal abuse
- Loss of a parental
- Parental substance abuse
- Parental illness
- Childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault
- Negative experiences with relationships in adolescence and early adulthood
Living with a Fear of Intimacy
Coping with and even overcoming something, a fear of intimacy depends on the reasons the fear exists and the extent to which it affects a person’s life.
If an individual’s life is impacted by their fear of intimacy, their fear results from trauma or occurs in conjunctions with depression, anxiety or any other mental health problem the support of a professional counselor or psychologist is should be considered.
However, if this is something you would prefer to manage on your own there are several things you can do. There’s nothing easy about overcoming this and support is always a good thing but there is hope.
Acceptance is the first step to most things, isn’t it? Take some time with yourself and try to understand where these fears came from.
If we’re looking at this from an inner child perspective, there’s a child somewhere inside of us stuck in a time and place where their needs weren’t met, where they felt unsafe or unworthy and finding that place is the key to the healing process.
That’s heavy for some of us to undertake on our own. But having some idea of where these problems stem from can only help us as we move through this journey.
Examine your past
This is truly one of the hardest things to do. Childhood trauma, or trauma in adulthood, isn’t always as cut and dry as we think. Trauma doesn’t always have to be worthy of a Lifetime movie. Trauma is anything that challenges the mind’s ability to cope.
It’s hard to acknowledge or even think about the negatives in our family and our childhood. Identifying those times when the lessons we learnt weren’t the best representations of healthy relationships or times when we felt scared, threatened or shamed for sharing our feelings can be a great place to relearn those norms and relearning how experience intimacy without fear of repercussions.
Be okay with uncertainty
Those who fear intimacy likely understand the risks of opening up, being vulnerable and not having a guaranteed future with that person.
Connection is a gamble and as much as we might try to control the outcome and set ourselves up for success, we don’t always have that sort of control.
This is one of those things where we can set well thought out goals. Each time we have a positive interaction, our fear will dissipate little by little. Identify someone in your life that you think you can probably trust and focus on being your authentic self more often with that person. Remember intimacy is not just about sex, it’s about sharing thoughts, feelings and experiences as well.
Be kind and patient with yourself. You’re dealing doing your best to deal with some heavy things – don’t minimize your effort or progress. Remember that you’re a valuable and worthwhile person exactly as you are right now.
As you gain confidence in yourself, the risk of rejection that comes with opening yourself up to intimacy lessens. In some ways, allowing yourself to become intimate with another person depends on how comfortable you are with yourself. After all, how can you share your body, your thoughts, feelings and experiences with another person if you’re not comfortable with them on your own?
Be patient with yourself
You’re working on relearning what may be a lifetime of lessons that taught you to fear intimacy. This fear, or hesitancy to experience intimacy, didn’t develop overnight and it will not go away overnight either.
Work at your own pace, celebrate your successes and remember it will take as long as it takes, there’s no sense in trying to rush things.
What does this have to do with being demisexual?
This is a discussion I’ve had many times since starting the blog. Am I really demisexual? How do I know I’m not just afraid of intimacy?
As with any label, it’s totally normal to worry about if the label you choose is the right one. Especially with something as fluid as demisexuality.
When a person’s ability to experience sexual attraction toward another person is based upon the existence of an emotional connection, it’s not farfetched to imagine periods of time with intense sexual attraction and other periods with no sexual attraction.
Can you be demisexual and afraid of intimacy?
One label doesn’t minimize or invalidate the other.
You’re demisexual if you only feel sexual attraction after you’ve built an emotional connection to that person. You’re afraid of intimacy if the stuff we just talked about resonates with you.
I think we often forget that we don’t owe anybody an explanation, especially about something as personal as being demisexual or afraid of intimacy.
It may be helpful to consider whether you’re truly afraid of intimacy or just put off by the idea of physical intimacy without an emotional bond.
Demisexuals and emotional, intellectual and experiential intimacy
Generally, demisexuals are pretty comfortable with emotional, intellectual and even experiential intimacy.
We crave connection, deep conversations are our thing. Speaking candidly, I’ve got to say, as a group we’re really good at fostering intimacy with all of our clothes on.
It’s those things that we build sexual attraction for us. Without non-sexual intimacy, we may not want to pursue sexual intimacy with a person.
Are demisexuals afraid of sexual intimacy?
This is a harder question to answer. I’m always hesitant to make sweeping generalizations about the community because I see everything through the lens of my life experiences.
The one and only thing that brings us together as a community is that we only experience sexual attraction after we have established an emotional connection.
The way we think about sex in the absence of an emotional connection is different for everyone. Some demisexuals enjoy sex as an activity and have no qualms about having sex without sexual attraction. They may enjoy it because it’s an enjoyable activity in its own right.
Others are repulsed by the idea of being physically intimate with someone they don’t have an emotional connection to. Others, yet, are neutral on the topic.
Every one of these positions is totally valid.
Can you be afraid of sex but not afraid of intimacy?
That’s the million dollar question right now, isn’t it?
Sex can be scary. Sex with a new person can be scary. It’s unknown, it’s a risk and you’re putting yourself out there in a way you might not be used to.
Being anxious, afraid or apprehensive about having sex for the first time or for the first time with a new person is normal and very different from being afraid of intimacy in the way we discussed earlier.
Do I think some demisexuals are afraid of intimacy? Probably, we’re people too.
Do I think demisexuals are more likely to experience a fear of intimacy than anyone else? Not at all. I think there are likely many demisexuals who feel neutral or repulsed at the thought of being physically intimate without an emotional connection. But we know people can have sex without an emotional connection – this is no different, or worse. It’s just less understood and discussed.
Perhaps the biggest thing to remember is that you’re not obligated to provide anyone with an explanation.
Your sexuality, your struggles and your journey are yours to share when and in whichever way feels best for you.
Own your labels, own your struggles, and start doing to push you toward living the life you most want. You owe it to yourself to live on your terms without worrying about justifying or explaining it to anyone else.
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