Stressful Response to Thought of Others Having Sex

Published: January 02, 2018
Dear TeenHealthFX,

I'm no longer a teenager, but I've been visiting this site for years and you've actually answered some of my questions years ago, and since you're the only site I can think of that responds to long-form questions, I thought I'd try again! Maybe writing will help, anyway! So, since I was around 16 or 17, I've always experienced a pretty weird, stressful response to thoughts of other people, especially those I know, having sex. I can't identify the actual emotion--it's not my usual anxiety or depression, but I also am not certain it's jealousy or anxiety--which doesn't help. It can also happen with fictional characters, especially if I identify with them. Essentially, the cycle goes like this: someone talks about having sex/their sexual experiences, I get upset, I do nothing to remove myself from the situation, I feel guilty for getting upset, I make myself feel worse because I'm guilty. These feelings are interfering with interpersonal relationships: I've ended friendships because of it, and I need people talking directly to me to tell me they're gonna talk about sex and give me a chance to say "please don't" before they do. It also causes a lot of anxiety. The thing is, it had gotten better for a while. I'm in a long-distance relationship, and early in that relationship my boyfriend and I were having cyber- or phone sex frequently, and that helped the feelings subside. Due to our mental health and life situations, we started having sex less, but around that time we met up for the first and so far only time in real life and had manual and oral sex (we didn't have a condom so we avoided genital-to-genital contact; also, I want to take this opportunity to state that he is a man and I am not a woman). Although we stopped having sex almost entirely after that, it was enough to make the bad feelings subside for about a year. Lately, however, they've been returning, and it seems like it's worse than ever, and I'm not sure why. I don't think I have any sexual trauma, and I have what I feel are healthy attitudes about sex overall. I'd really like to think that I'm not just petty and jealous and pushing people away because I don't like that they have sex and I don't, but because I don't understand what I'm feeling, I can't rule out the possibility. Are feelings like these normal? What do they mean? What can I do about them? Whether or not you answer this question, thank you for reading, and, speaking as someone whose original career goal was to be a high school teacher, thank you so much for providing such an excellent resource for adolescents. You do truly amazing work.

Signed: Stressful Response to Thought of Others Having Sex

Dear Stressful Response to Thought of Others Having Sex,

TeenHealthFX would like to begin by stating that we are very happy you consider our site a helpful resource! We look forward to answering any future questions you may have.

It is normal to be curious, think about, and have questions regarding sex. FX can also understand that the thought of close friends and/or family engaging in sexual intercourse may be uncomfortable.

However, since you have been experiencing this reaction for several years, it is harming your interpersonal relationships and feels to be worsening recently, TeenHealthFX suggests you meet with a certified mental health professional, such as a therapist. He/she can work with you to identify the root cause of your discomfort, as well as possible solutions to develop a healthy attitude toward sex.

If you live in northern New Jersey and need help finding a therapist you can call the Access Center from Atlantic Behavioral Health at 888-247-1400. Outside of this area you can log onto the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website for referrals in your area. You can also contact your insurance company to get a list of in-network mental health providers or check with your school social worker or psychologist to get a list of referrals in your area.

Further, you stated that you engage in online dating. FX highly recommends ensuring your safety through the following practices:

  • Inform parents and/or a trusted adult of the details surrounding your date
  • Meet in a public place during daylight hours
  • Double-date or go out in a group
  • Do not use substances that can impair judgement
  • Always bring a cell phone or device that you can use to contact others 


FX applauds your choice to only engage in genital contact when a condom is available. TeenHealthFX recommends that all sexually active teenagers use condoms every time they have sexual intercourse. Condoms are the only form of birth control that protect from sexually transmitted infections.

FX suggests the following resources:


Signed: TeenHealthFX