Debilitating fears are a problem for everyone, an unfortunate part of the human experience. Whether they’re a result of learned behavior as a child, are related to a mental health condition, or stem from a past wounding event, these fears influence a character’s behaviors, habits, beliefs, and personality traits. The compulsion to avoid what they fear will drive characters away from certain people, events, and situations and hold them back in life.
In your story, this primary fear (or group of fears) will constantly challenge the goal the character is pursuing, tempting them to retreat, settle, and give up on what they want most. Because this fear must be addressed for them to achieve success, balance, and fulfillment, it plays a pivotal part in both character arc and the overall story.
This thesaurus explores the various fears that might be plaguing your character. Use it to understand and utilize fears to fully develop your characters and steer them through their story arc. Please note that this isn’t a self-diagnosis tool. Fears are common in the real world, and while we may at times share similar tendencies as characters, the entry below is for fiction writing purposes only.
Fear of Sex
Sex is one of the most intimate means of human connection, so some anxiety surrounding it is normal. But deeper fears can easily develop in this area because of its intimate nature and the vulnerability involved, especially if a person has suffered past trauma or has a physical condition that makes sex painful. When this happens, the character may seek to avoid something that should be natural, pleasurable, and a means to grow in intimacy with others.
What It Looks Like
Having little to no interest in sex
Not engaging in conversations around sex
Hesitancy towards romantic relationships
Avoiding romantic or erotic movies
Turning down dates
Taking a vow of celibacy
The character making themselves undesirable (dressing down, covering exposed skin, slouching, etc.)
Responding coldly or awkwardly to flirting
The character showing signs of discomfort when they’re with someone who expresses romantic interest
Intentionally sabotaging relationships
Making excuses for not having sex
Shying away from being touched
Having to self-medicate to engage in sexual activity
Nervousness about showing skin or taking off clothes (going swimming, wearing tank tops, etc.)
Being triggered by pornography
Subconsciously sabotaging a partner’s attempts at emotional intimacy (because this will lead to requests for sex)
The character overcompensating by bragging about sexual exploits that have never happened
Seeing a sex therapist
Common Internal Struggles
Wanting to find a life partner but being afraid of intimacy
Wanting sex but being unable to complete the act
Difficulty being vulnerable with others
The character feeling insecure about their body
The character not understanding why sex is so natural for others but it’s a source of pain, shame, anxiety, or fear for them
Grappling with memories of sexual trauma
Feeling shame or self-loathing at their inability to perform
Being riddled with guilt and feelings of selfishness for being unable to meet a partner’s sexual needs
The character experiencing confusion about their sexual identity
Developing unhealthy ideas about sex (that it’s dirty, transactional, a means of control, etc.)
Flaws That May Emerge
Addictive, Antisocial, Cynical, Defensive, Dishonest, Inattentive, Inflexible, Inhibited, Insecure, Jealous, Macho, Nervous, Oversensitive, Suspicious, Uncommunicative, Withdrawn
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Being unable to find someone to go through life with
Difficulty opening up to others
Developing a sexual dysfunction
Feeling uncomfortable and awkward when sex is discussed, referenced, included in a movie, etc.
Being sexually unfulfilled
Sex becoming an act that must be endured rather than something pleasurable to be shared
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Being stalked or harassed
Friends gossiping about their sexual experiences
Meeting a potential partner the character would like to pursue a deep relationship with
An unexpected sex scene in a movie or book
Someone flirting with the character
Being touched without consent
Certain types of medical exams
A partner insisting on couple’s therapy, where the character will have to discuss sex and explore their feelings and memories about it
Other Fear Thesaurus entries can be found here.
Need More Descriptive Help?
While this thesaurus is still being developed, the rest of our descriptive collection (16 unique thesauri and growing) is accessible through the One Stop for Writers THESAURUS database.
If you like, swing by and check out the video walkthrough for this site, and then give our Free Trial a spin.
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.
Leave a Reply