Sex + Dating

I Have a Crippling Fear of Nudity. Here's Why.

Naked man with blurred crotch in crowded elevator
COLE SALADINO/THRILLIST

My persistent aversion to my own naked form turns out to have a name: gymnophobia.

It's an apt title, since I DO also get anxiety at the gym. But the discomfort I feel while naked, paired with a strong distaste for the sensation of sheets on my uncovered skin, gives me my greatest source of fear.

I have a full-blown phobia when it comes to being naked. 

I'm not a never-nude by any means. I don't shower in a bathing suit, I do take off my pants completely before putting on a new pair, and I don't (normally) do that trick women have mastered when they change shirts and undergarments without actually undressing. I just prefer to keep my shirt on during sex. In fact, I prefer being clothed at any particular time of day -- even when I’m by myself.

I didn't think much of it until probably the fifth time someone yelled at me to take my clothes off for sex. This got me thinking that there might be something more to my habit than the way blankets feel on my flesh. Urged by my psychologist to pursue the history of this issue, I discovered there was -- and is -- much more to my fear of nudity than I'd originally believed.

Outlined for you, beloved reader, are a collection of vignettes that document my descent into flesh-colored madness. There are pics, too. 

Shirtless man with hands covering his nipples
COLE SALADINO/THRILLIST

1990

I was in preschool, on the slide, surrounded by teachers and parents. Triumphantly at the top, I proclaimed that I was going to slide down to the bottom. Amidst the cheers of jovial adults, I slid all the way down... and down came my pants. They had gotten caught on something and left me absolutely pants-less in front a crowd of strangers, who -- and this is true -- actually started laughing.
 

2003

I was about to take my clothes off in front of a girl for the first time. I was 16 and she was 15, and we were standing in her bedroom in Connecticut. She was about to pit my cherry -- and I hers -- but before we did, she wanted to know what I looked like under all those layers of clothes.

In my final moments as a virgin, I was starkly aware this was the first time I’d be seen naked by a love interest. I had no strategy for presentation. So, I just gingerly peeled off my XXL hoodie, unbuttoned my XXL pants, and slipped out of my XXL shirt to present my teen girlfriend with a porcelain-white, blobby body that looked as if a potato had fallen into a sink full of discarded hair.

I'll never forget the poor girl's reaction: the giddy glee draining from her eyes, her muffled disappointment. She managed to keep her composure, made me a man... and left me totally traumatized over my own nude male form.
 

2005

My college girlfriend is spending her bajillionth straight night at my dorm and insists we sleep *shudder* in the nude to celebrate whichever reason she’s dug up to justify staying another night with me in my cramped single bed. Despite my pleas, her argument wins out and I decide that I can -- in fact -- become a more sensuous person from sleeping naked.

I spend the night modulating between freezing cold and boiling hot, succumbing to her curiously high body temperature and the frigid outside air. I wake up after what couldn’t have been more than an hour night’s sleep and put on pajamas. She wakes up shortly after and chastises me for getting dressed. She and I didn’t have a great relationship.

Triptych of shirtless tattooed man
COLE SALADINO/THRILLIST

2008

On my first rebound date since my live-in girlfriend dumped me and got engaged to another guy within that same month -- true story, haha -- I found myself in bed with a pretty girl from OkCupid. After a bit too much whiskey, the inevitable happens, and I notice that I’m reacting *ahem* too well to the alcohol. Yup: good ol' whiskey dick. After several attempts to make things work, I give up.

Unwilling to take no for an answer, the girl looks at my naked body, motions to my lower half, and says these four poisonous words: "Are you kidding me?!"
 

2012

Officially a New York City transplant, I'd just completed my move from Boston to Bushwick and moved in with my little brother amidst the now-waning disappointment from underwhelming Hurricane Irene. To celebrate the change in scenery, my brother and roommate invited their shockingly attractive friends over for a makeshift party. We were all drinking something along the lines of Kool-Aid and Everclear and the combination had made me feel especially... iffy.

After some excruciating time in the bathroom, I came out and proclaimed -- in front of all those hot friends -- that I was feeling better. Suddenly, my roommate's hands were on my waist. He yanked my pants down in one fell swoop, exposing my unaroused member to a gaggle of beautiful women. They laughed, they pointed, and I think I slipped into a coma.

It doesn't take an associate clinical professor of psychiatry to put together that it was the repeated emotionally traumatic events that led to my gymnophobia. Just to be sure, I talked to Dr. Stephen Snyder, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He had some reassuring words for my *ahem* problem.

"Here's how phobias work, in brief," said Dr. Snyder. "Fear usually leads to avoidance. But avoidance in turn will generate more fear. If you go out of your way to avoid something, your brain assumes it must be very dangerous. Of course it's OK to leave some clothes on during sex.

"But, general mental health (including sexual health) is all about being able to make free choices. And if a man's fear requires him to keep his boxers on, he's not able to make as free a choice. Treatment usually involves treating the underlying social anxiety disorder with therapy and/or medication."

Therapy? Medication? What am I? Made of money? With a money suit? And a money tie? And a money tie clip?

And every time I put on my money vest, money falls out and leaves a trail for people to find me? Fuck no!

I'm all for making positive changes to your life, but I look at it this way: my naked body's been in the hands of parents, peers, lovers, and friends for the past 29 years. For the latter part of my life, it will be in mine. If I want to sit on this pile of fleshy anxiety and live life with a shirt on, goddammit, I’ll do it! I relinquish my options to get help and nominate the right to remain a stickler.

Intimacy be damned, I’m taking my body back and staying stubborn. My body, my rules!

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Jeremy Glass is a writer for Thrillist and plans to be buried in a thick wool suit.