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Haphephobia[1][2] (also known as aphephobia,[1] haphophobia,[2][3] hapnophobia,[2] haptephobia,[1][2] haptophobia,[1][2][3] thixophobia[1]) is a rare specific phobia that involves the fear of touching or of being touched. It is an acute exaggeration of the normal tendencies to protect one's personal space, expressed as a fear of contamination or invasion, and extending even to people whom its sufferers know well.[4][5]

Some people are born with haphephobia, while others may develop it, predominantly after a bad experience. More rarely, it is caused by an extreme reaction to their environment. Sometimes, the fear is restricted specifically, or predominantly, to being touched by people of the opposite or same sex. This is often associated with a fear of sexual assault. Michel Dorais reports that many boys who have been the victims of sexual abuse have a fear of being touched, quoting one victim who describes being touched as something that "burns like fire", causing him to freeze up or lash out.[5][6]


As with various other phobias and anxieties, the symptoms experienced by sufferers of haphephobia can vary on the individual; however, a non-exhaustive list of symptoms includes:[7]

  • Discomfort and perspiration;
  • Nausea;
  • Heart palpitations;
  • Dry mouth;
  • Feeling dizzy;
  • Panic;
  • Numbness;
  • Heightened senses;
  • Breathlessness;
  • Feeling trapped;
  • Muscle tension and rigidity;
  • Trembling;
  • Hyperventilating;
  • Feeling out of control;
  • Feeling of impending doom or disaster.
  • Urticaria[citation needed]

Society and culture[edit]

In the 1962 movie David and Lisa, Keir Dullea portrays a teenager committed to a mental hospital for the treatment of haphephobia. While there, he falls in love with Lisa (Janet Margolin), and begins to realize why he has been institutionalized.

In the 2007 film, Lars and the Real Girl, Ryan Gosling plays a man "burned by human touch" who creates an in-depth relationship with a RealDoll named Bianca.[citation needed]

In the television show The Following, the character Mark has a "mild" case of haphephobia.[8]

In the television sitcom The Big Bang Theory, it is implied that the character Sheldon Cooper has haphephobia among his many phobias and neuroses. In the episode "The Cooper/Kripke Inversion", Penny asks Sheldon whether he would ever consider a sexual relationship with his girlfriend Amy Farrah Fowler. Sheldon states that he has been working on his haphephobia, and admits that he could one day get physical with Amy.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Charles Harrington Elster (1996). There's a Word for It!. Scribner. p. 160. ISBN 0684824558. 
  2. ^ a b c d e John G. Robertson (1991). Robertson's Words for a Modern Age. Senior Scribe Publications. p. 213. ISBN 0963091913. 
  3. ^ a b Laurence Urdang; Anne Ryle; Tanya H. Lee (1986). -ologies & -isms. Gale Research Co. p. 557. ISBN 0810311968. 
  4. ^ John G. Robertson (2003). An Excess of Phobias and Manias. Senior Scribe Publications. p. 95. ISBN 096309193X. 
  5. ^ a b John Birtchnell (1996). How Humans Relate: A New Interpersonal Theory. Psychology Press. p. 142. ISBN 0863774326. 
  6. ^ Michel Dorais (2002). Don't Tell: The Sexual Abuse of Boys. McGill-Queen's Press — MQUP. p. 84. ISBN 0773522611. 
  7. ^ McGoldrick, Daniel P. (November 22, 2010). "What Is Haphephobia?". Health Guide Info. 
  8. ^ Wax, Alyse (18 February 2014). "TV Recap: 'The Following' Episode 205 - 'Reflection'". fearnet.com. Retrieved 26 February 2014.