Gynophobia: The Fear of Women

Gynophobia fear of women illustration

Verywell / JR Bee 

Gynophobia is defined as an intense and irrational fear of women. It may be characterized as a form of specific phobia.

Specific phobias involve a fear that is centered on a specific trigger object or situation, which in the case of gynophobia is women. The fear that people experience is far out of proportion to any actual danger that they face, and people with this phobia may recognize that their anxiety is excessive. Understanding that the fear is irrational, however, does not prevent people with a specific phobia from feeling highly anxious and even panicked.

Gynophobia should not be confused with misogyny, which is the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or girls. While gynophobia is anxiety-based and involves a fear response, misogyny is a harmful learned cultural attitude.

Gynophobia is not recognized as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but it could potentially fall under the diagnostic criteria for specific phobias. 

Causes, Triggers, & Risk Factors

Although the exact cause of gynophobia is not well understood, like other specific phobias, both genetic and environmental factors may play a contributing role. Gynophobia is likely heavily influenced by environment and experience. Negative or traumatic experiences involving women often play the largest role in the onset of this phobia. Mental, physical, or sexual abuse involving women, for example, might lead to feelings of fear or anxiety about being around women.

There are also a number of risk factors that might increase the likelihood that a person will develop gynophobia. Some of these include:

  • Age: In general, children are more susceptible to the development of most phobias.
  • Genetics: People are also more likely to develop a phobia if they have close relatives with anxiety disorders or other social phobias.
  • Temperament: People who are more sensitive than others or have a generally pessimistic outlook may increase the risk of phobia development.

Symptoms

Some of the symptoms a person with gynophobia might experience include:

  • An immediate, overwhelming fear of being around or thinking about women
  • Avoiding activities to prevent possible interaction with women
  • Increasing anxiety as you get nearer to a woman or as you approach a situation where you may have to interact with one

The condition may also cause panic attacks, which typically include some of the following physical symptoms:

  • Sweating
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Rapid heartbeat

As with other specific phobias, these symptoms must be long-lasting and severe enough to impact your school, work, education, or personal life to be considered a true phobia. Although symptoms typically appear by the age of 10, they can continue into adulthood if left untreated.

Diagnosis

While gynophobia is not listed in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and therefore, is not recognized as a distinct and diagnosable disorder, its symptoms may meet the diagnostic criteria for a specific phobia:

  • Unreasonable, excessive fear
  • Immediate anxiety response to the source of the fear (in this case, women)
  • Avoidance of the object or extreme distress when it's encountered
  • A significant impact on the individual's life and ability to function

Diagnosis also requires the symptoms to have been present for at least six months and not be caused by another condition.

Treatment

Just as there is no specific cause of gynophobia, there is also no treatment protocol specifically designed for this condition. Nevertheless, there are still many different forms of treatment that can help you improve many of the symptoms of gynophobia including therapy and medication.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is one of the most effective treatments for phobias. Through exposure therapy, you can develop healthy coping mechanisms and desensitize yourself to your fear with support and within a safe space. In the case of gynophobia, a person would gradually be exposed to women until the feelings of fear related to women are reduced or eliminated.

Exposure therapy is gradual and begins with small steps. For example, the process may start with being prompted to think about women or by looking at images of women. During the exercise, your therapist will guide you in practicing relaxation techniques to help ease anxiety symptoms that arise. The process would continue step-by-step, progressing to more anxiety-producing stimuli such as hearing audio of women talking, watching videos of women, and, finally, going places where women are present.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) combines exposure therapy and other therapeutic techniques to change your underlying beliefs. It can help you uncover why it is that you think, feel, and behave the way you do when it comes to women. Specifically, CBT can help you:

  • Understand the root cause of your phobia
  • View your phobia in a different light
  • Learn how to master and control the associated symptoms

Gradually challenging your fears and mastering relaxation techniques can give a person with gynophobia a feeling of control over their anxiety when faced with women.

Medication

Behavioral treatments like exposure therapy and CBT are usually the recommended approach to treating gynophobia. However, your doctor may prescribe medication if gynophobia is causing significant anxiety.

Currently, there are three classes of drugs considered useful in managing the symptoms of phobia:

  • Beta-blockers: This group of drugs is sometimes used to treat the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, and tremors (shaking). They work by changing the way your body reacts to adrenaline, a stress-related hormone. Research also suggests that some beta-blockers may also change how the body recalls and responds to fearful memories.
  • Antidepressants: While most commonly used to treat mood disorders, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can help prevent panic attacks and alleviate symptoms of anxiety caused by gynophobia.
  • Sedatives: Sedatives like benzodiazepines can be used for a short period to induce muscle relaxation and reduce anxiety associated with phobias.

Medication mainly focuses on tackling the symptoms of the phobia, not the underlying cause.

Complications

Gynophobia may not seem like a serious problem, but it can hamper your routine activities and make it impossible to lead a normal life. Some of the complications of gynophobia include:

  • Social isolation: A person with gynophobia may not only avoid social situations where women might be present, but they may also avoid seeking medical treatment for the same reasons.
  • Depression: The frustration and isolation associated with gynophobia can lead to feelings of depression.
  • Substance misuse: People with symptoms of gynophobia may start taking drugs or other harmful substances to try to control their anxiety.

Prognosis & Prevention

There is no data specifically related to treatment effectiveness for gynophobia, but the long-term prognosis may be similar to that of other phobias. Research has shown that exposure-based treatments can be particularly effective in the treatment of specific phobias such as gynophobia. All forms of this treatment are better than no treatment, but in vivo (or real-life) exposure has been found to be more effective than imagined exposures in most cases.

There's no way to prevent phobias. However, seeking help immediately after a traumatic experience or at the first sign of anxiety symptoms can help ensure that lingering fears don't escalate into a phobia. The sooner you seek professional treatment, the better your chances of successfully overcoming the phobia.

Parents can also help avoid passing their phobias on to their children by learning effective techniques to manage their stress in a healthy way. As you learn how to tolerate stress, you will, in turn, be teaching your child how to cope with anxiety-provoking situations.

A Word From Verywell

Gynophobia can cause many difficulties in a person's daily life, and when left untreated, it can be particularly disabling. The good news is that it's treatable, so it's important to seek professional help as soon as possible.

Remember that recovering from gynophobia is a process that will take time. Having a support system, seeking appropriate treatment, and being patient with yourself can ensure that you are taking steps toward overcoming your fear.

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