Sure, it’s fun to say—and might look like a term out of a Dr. Seuss book instead of a textbook—but Sarmassophobia is quite real and it affects a lot of people.
Sarmassophobia is defined as the fear of dating and relationships. Translated literally, it’s the fear of love play. It’s considered to be a social phobia focused on the fear of situations, objects, activities, or people involved in kissing, dating, or flirting.
The fear of getting out there and going on dates can be a little embarrassing, so many people use other excuses to mask the symptoms of Sarmassophobia. Saying they’re “just happy being single” is one of them. Or saying they “don’t like blind dates” after a coworker tries to hook them up with someone is another. But these are also super normal things that a lot of us do. So how do you know the difference?
Here’s what you need to know about what Sarmassophobia really looks like:
It’s often due to a fear of getting pregnant.
Even if this is just a first date with no expectation of a goodnight hug, for many people Sarmassophobia is linked to a fear of pregnancy or fear of sex. If someone’s been sexually active and had a scare, or if they assume that the first time being intimate will lead to pregnancy, it makes sense for them to want to back off. It won’t cure Sarmassophobia, but talking to a doctor and getting on birth control—even if they don’t plan to partake in sexual activity—may be a good way to feel a little better. That way, the person will feel like they have control over the situation.
It can come from an underlying fear that sex is bad.
This one depends on the person’s upbringing. Technically, Sarmassophobia is a fear of “love play,” meaning that everything from dating to sex is scary. If someone assumes that everyone will expect them to have sex, and they’ve been told that sex is bad by their parents or religious teachers, it can create these types of fears. No matter what, someone’s sex life is in their own hands. There’s no shame in keeping your virginity until marriage, if that’s what you truly want. But fear shouldn’t hold you back from something you truly want either.
It’s something to talk to a professional about.
Therapy is helpful for pretty much everyone—even people who think they have everything together, talking about feelings and emotions with someone who’s there for you can make a big difference. Sarmassophobia is something that can get in the way of someone’s life, so it’s important to make a change and find healthy ways to get over these fears.
Sometimes, it stems from past trauma.
Not all childhoods are happy—that’s an upsetting, yet true fact. According to Massive Phobia, Sarmassophobia is an isolated phobia, meaning that there’s typically a root cause about why it exists in the first place. If someone was abused, or perhaps their very first relationship pushed a physical relationship earlier than they wanted, it may cause a fear of dating, intimacy, and sex. Again, it’s good to talk about these things with a therapist or counselor. They’re trained to help people move through these issues and maintain a healthy life.
“Getting over it” will take some time.
Sarmassophobia is a real phobia that affects many people, mostly women, and it requires time and patience to work through. Psychosexual therapist and relationship counselor Krystal Woodbridge advises that nobody should force it. “Every time you have a negative experience, it will make it worse,” she said to Grazia. “Take a step back. If you had a phobia of snakes you wouldn’t jump into the snake nest.”
If you think you may have Sarmassophobia, don’t let it take over your whole life. If you’ve thought about marriage and kids someday, but the fear of starting a new romance blocks the way, it’ll be much harder accomplishing those milestones if you don’t address how you’re feeling and learn to understand it.
There’s nothing wrong with Sarmassophobia. And there’s no shame in opening up about these issues. In fact, it’s pretty brave.