SEXUAL HEALTH: A most unusual phobia - Daily Nation

A most unusual phobia

Friday September 2 2016

Intimacy can be a problem for women who suffer

Intimacy can be a problem for women who suffer a type of trauma that is not often discussed. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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It was a big surprise when Nancy, her two-year-old daughter and her husband walked into the sexology clinic. It had been three years since I last met her but the memories of those days were as fresh to my mind as if they had happened yesterday.

That first encounter took place on a cold Monday morning in July. Nancy was 28 years old, single, and a teacher at a primary school in her village. She was brought to me by her uncle, Richard. She had arrived at his house the previous night, devastated, having escaped what she called an encounter with a weapon of mass destruction.

Trouble had been brewing for Nancy because her relatives wanted her to get married. Community traditions dictated that her younger siblings could not marry before her; she needed to marry to pave way for her younger sister to do the same. Her younger

sister was ready to go; she already had a boyfriend who was threatening to walk out of the relationship if they did not marry immediately. The family got jittery. Nancy was being a ‘spoiler’.


The plan was hatched by her aunties. “They went out of their way to get a man for me! It was all in good faith,” Nancy said. She did not mind. She took it easy and got to know the man. He convinced her to visit their home and get to know his family. She

agreed… but to her surprise, when she turned up, her aunties were already in the home. They welcomed her with song and dance and told her she was not to go back home, that they had organised to have her cohabit with the man, and that marriage formalities would follow. She was confused.

Real trouble began when nightfall came. She was instructed to sleep in the man’s house. It dawned on her that she had been taken captive. She felt betrayed by the people she trusted. She did not know how to escape, but she was able to contain herself till

bedtime. The sight of the man’s erect penis was the straw that broke the camel’s back. She went hysterical. She screamed, fought the man and stormed out of the house. She ran back to her father’s home, which was about 10 kilometres away, in the

darkness. The next day she escaped to her uncle’s house in Nairobi and told him that she had been raped. Her uncle brought her to the clinic as a matter of urgency.

Well, it turns out that Nancy had a morbid fear of an erect penis, called medorthophobia in medical terms. Fear of the penis is quite common, but is usually mild. Some people like Nancy do not necessarily fear a flaccid penis (phallophobia) but are afraid when it erects. As a secondary effect, they avoid intimate relationships, and marriage can be a problem.


“Are you a virgin?” I asked. Nancy broke down and cried uncontrollably. The session could not continue and the appointment had to be rebooked.

“I am now ready to tell you my encounter with the weapon of mass destruction,” Nancy started during her next appointment.

“What is a weapon of mass destruction?” I enquired naively.

“The penis! It is a dangerous organ, believe me. Many people have died after an encounter with it,” Nancy said. I was surprised at the disdain she had for an innocent, natural part of the human male.

Further conversation revealed that Nancy had been molested several times by her grandfather in her childhood. He died when she was nine years old. All she could remember was the erect organ bruising her thighs. Her parents were never home and never knew what she went through. She said that her grandfather was a good man and very caring until his penis became erect. This left a scar in her mind that would later be reinforced by stories of HIV, unwanted pregnancies and deaths from unsafe abortion during her school days. She avoided intimate relationships and marriage so as to remain safe from “the weapon of mass destruction.”

Most cases of phallophobia and medorthophobia result from experiencing sexual trauma in childhood. Treatment requires intensive therapy to heal from the childhood trauma. In Nancy’s case the treatment also involved counselling close relatives who had taken it upon themselves to marry her off.

Two years after that first encounter, Nancy started a relationship. Five years down the line, she came to see me… with her husband and child in tow.