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Some people feel like they don’t get along with women or don’t understand them.
But mere discomfort around the female sex likely isn’t gynophobia. Phobias are unreasonable, abnormal fears that disrupt your life. For those with gynophobia, seeing women, hearing female-related words or voices, and even thinking about or anticipating situations involving women can cause a fear response.
What is gynophobia?
Gynophobia is a specific phobia characterized by an abnormal fear of women. Specific phobias are a type of anxiety disorder and one of the most common mental health conditions.
There are five classifications of specific phobia: animal, natural environment, blood-injection-injury, situational, and other. Phobias outside of the first four categories, like gynophobia, can be triggered by specific objects or situations. These phobias may develop in childhood or later in life (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
Phobias cause overwhelming fear or unwarranted reactions to specific triggers. With gynophobia, seeing women or interacting with feminine-inspired imagery can cause panic attacks and other anxiety symptoms.
To be classified as a phobia, your gynophobic fear should be excessive enough that it interferes with your personal or professional life (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Your fear of being around women may cause you to avoid them, maintain social isolation, or experience significant distress.
What causes gynophobia?
Like other specific phobias, gynophobia may develop due to negative past experiences.
This may include childhood-related abuse perpetrated by a female. Though a person or group may have caused the trauma, gynophobia is an abnormal fear of all women or female-related stimuli, as opposed to fearing a specific someone.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): symptoms and diagnosis
Women, men, and gender-nonconforming people can all experience gynophobia. However, there is no research regarding which genders experience gynophobia or the rate at which they do so.
Women, however, are more likely to experience specific phobias in general. Research suggests specific phobias affect over 7% of people and nearly 10% of women within their lifetime (Wardenaar, 2017).
Having a parent or a sibling with a phobia makes you more likely to have a phobia, too. Though phobias tend to run in families, having a family member with a phobia doesn’t mean you’ll have the same triggers (Fyer, 1990). For example, your mom might be afraid of snakes while your sister is afraid of dogs.
Signs of gynophobia
To be diagnosed with gynophobia, you must meet the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic criteria for specific phobia.
Gynophobia symptoms include excessive or unreasonable fear prompted by interactions with women or female-related sounds, imagery, and thoughts. This irrational fear of women must be extreme enough to trigger anxiety symptoms like panic attacks, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, sweating, shaking, throat tightness, and shortness of breath. Your symptoms may also present as disgust or feeling as though you are in danger (LeBeau, 2010).
In children, gynophobia may cause crying, tantrums, clinging to parents, or freezing. Fear-related episodes should occur for at least six months in children before being considered a phobia (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
When diagnosing specific phobias, panic-related symptoms can’t be explained by other mental health conditions like generalized anxiety disorder or agoraphobia. Although symptoms must occur in response to female-related triggers, it is possible to have gynophobia in addition to another mental health issue.
Specific phobias can co-occur alongside other mental health disorders like social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, mood disorders, and alcohol dependence. Those with one phobia are also more likely to have other phobias (Kessler, 2005).
Phobias are one of the most treatable mental health conditions. While untreated phobias tend to be lifelong issues, the good news is symptoms often subside with treatment.
Treatment options that can help include psychotherapy and prescription medication. No treatment may be necessary for mild phobias that don’t cause daily distress (Wolitzky-Taylor, 2008).
Exposure therapy: a proven therapy for anxiety and PTSD
Research shows that cognitive behavioral therapy paired with exposure therapy is the most effective phobia treatment (Wolitzky-Taylor, 2008). CBT is a type of talk therapy that teaches better coping skills and techniques to help you stay calm when facing triggers.
Exposure therapy works to help you confront your triggers in real-life scenarios. Your therapist will start small and help you navigate situations that cause increasing amounts of panic. They may ask you to imagine or visualize the threat––if real threat exposure isn’t feasible or safe.
Treatment generally includes five to eight 90-minute sessions or a single two to three-hour session. The benefits of exposure therapy tend to last for at least one year (Koch, 2004).
Sedative medications like benzodiazepines can also help treat specific phobias. Benzodiazepines are prescription drugs that allow you to feel relaxed (Bounds, 2020). The medication typically kicks in quickly, within minutes to an hour, which can help in situations where your trigger is present.
Because of the risk of addiction, benzodiazepines are a better option for phobias that aren’t experienced daily, like a flying phobia. Treatment with benzodiazepines is typically short-term due to the possibility of withdrawal after long-term treatment.
It may be hard to picture a life where your gynophobia doesn’t feel all-consuming, but it’s important to remember that phobias can resolve with treatment. Most phobias go undiagnosed because people are afraid to reach out and get help. If gynophobia makes it hard to live your life, talk to a mental health professional.
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Felix Gussone is a physician, health journalist and a Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.