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Erotophobia can mean different things depending on the context in which it is used, though it generally refers to fear of or negative attitudes toward sex and human sexuality. When used in a clinical or psychological context, the term usually refers to a literal phobia in which a person experiences fear or panic when confronted with sexuality, or a general descriptor of a person’s attitudes toward sex. Erotophobia can also be used in contexts outside of psychology and mental health, and often describes social or personal attitudes regarding sex and how individuals view human sexuality.
The term stems from “Eros,” the Greek god of sexual love, and phobos, the Greek word for fear, from which “phobia” derives its origin as well. Erotophobia is often used in a psychological context with one of two somewhat different meanings. When it is used in a very precise way, to refer to a specific psychological condition, it refers to an intense and often irrational fear of sex and sexuality. Someone who suffers from erotophobia will often experience intense feelings of fear and panic, often coupled with physical responses such as quickened breathing, faster heartbeat, and increased perspiration, when confronted with situations or images of sex. This fear can be purely irrational, or it may be the result of witnessing violent sexual acts or due to being a victim of sexual abuse.
Erotophobia can also refer to a more general psychological attitude regarding sex and human sexuality, both in terms of acceptance and tolerance. In this usage, the term is often part of a sliding scale with regard to how people in general view human sexuality. At one end are those who might be described as erotophobic. They may be intolerant of depictions of sexuality, are not likely to discuss sex openly or freely, and there can be decreased usage of contraception and reduced sexual education among those who may be erotophobic. On the other end of the scale are those who are labeled erotophiles, who are open to sex and sexuality, often more accepting of depictions of sex and more likely to talk openly about sex, including sexual education and the use of contraception.
The term “erotophobia” is also often used with regard to society and individuals in general and understanding how sex is viewed by others. Someone may talk about erotophobia in Western civilization as a general description of how people in the US or Europe view sex and sexuality. It is often used in criticisms of literature or film to indicate how an artist has dealt with sex and sexuality, and can also be used to describe how others view artwork that depicts sex. There is some criticism toward the use of the term itself, however, since it groups “sex” into a single viewpoint despite the complicated nature of human sexuality.