Sex & Relationships

Afraid Of Someone Seeing You Naked? A Sex Educator Answers Your Questions

It's all about exposure.

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In this week's Sex IDK column, Emma McGowan, certified sex educator and writer, answers your questions about getting over your fear of being naked in front of someone.

Q: How can you get over a fear of someone seeing you naked?

I’d venture to say that many people have at least a little bit of a fear of someone seeing them naked — that’s just part of our culture! It’s why we wear clothes! But considering this is a sex advice column, Reader, I’m going to assume that by “someone,” you mean “someone I want to have sex with and/or am already having sex with.” And since sex is one of the few things that modern humans do can involve nudity, being afraid of someone seeing you naked can undoubtedly be an obstacle.

My first suggestion is going to seem flip, but it isn’t: Don’t be naked. Seriously! There are ways to have sex that don’t involve full nudity, like doing it with a dress on but no panties or keeping your top on or wearing lingerie or other “intimate attire.” You could even turn it into a game or a fetish, experimenting with different ways to be intimate without being naked in front of your partner. I’m always about turning our fears into fantasies, whenever possible.

But I’m guessing, Reader, that your fear is rooted in insecurities around how your body looks. And that’s an unfortunately common issue. Between regular media and social media and filters and ads ads ads everywhere, it’s all too common for us to feel like we’re not measuring up. It sucks — a lot. But there are a few ways to address it.

If you currently have a partner, one of the first things you can do is be open and honest with them about this insecurity. Your partner will likely reassure you that they think you’re gorgeous just how you are — and if they don’t, it might be time to reconsider that relationship. Addressing this fear with your partner, in the open, instead of trying to handle it silently on your own, can help take away some of its power.

It also opens up the possibility of slowly introducing nudity into your relationship. Maybe you start with an item of clothing. Or maybe you try sex with a skirt or dress or kilt on, as I suggested above. Or maybe you create a game where you’re a sexy package they’re unwrapping over time. No matter how you choose to approach it, sharing this information with your partner will strengthen your relationship.

All of these suggestions so far involve you purposely exposing yourself (pun intended) to your fear. Another way to do that could be choosing to be nude — or partially nude — in places where that’s socially acceptable. (Once being in groups is safe again, of course.) For example, maybe choose to get fully nude in the locker room at the gym. Or you could go to a sauna or Korean spa or Japanese on-sen, where it’s expected that everyone is nude. (When I visited an on-sen in Kyoto a few years ago, I had a lot of thoughts about how I might view my own and other people’s bodies differently if I’d grown up bathing in “public.” It’s eye-opening.)

Author and cultural critic Lindy West, who has written extensively about her own journey to accept her body, has talked a lot about one method she used to stop thinking of her own body as disgusting. She “exposed” herself to images of naked fat people — image after image after image after image — until they didn’t disgust her anymore. Their bodies became just bodies; no value judgment attached.

You can do something similar by following fat acceptance activists on Instagram — just search the hashtag #fatacceptance, and you’ll find lots. You can also take a look at the original photo essay that inspired West, Leonard Nimoy’s Full Body Project. Exposing yourself to different bodies and paying attention to your thoughts when you do is a great way to change your perspective on your own body.

I’m going to include one more thing here, just because it’s all over the internet when you search for “fear of being naked,” and that’s a condition called “gymnophobia.” As a phobia, it’s an “abnormal or persistent fear of nudity.” This is literally a fear of nudity, not just feeling uncomfortable being naked. I can’t tell you if that’s what’s going on with you, Reader — but a therapist definitely can.

And speaking of therapists, therapy can 100% help you with this issue. A good therapist will help you not only “get over” your insecurities but also root out their causes. You can find someone in your area by searching on Psychology Today.