Gynophobia (Fear of Women)
What is gynophobia?
Gynophobia is an irrational fear of women that causes anxiety when around women and, in some cases, the desire to avoid interactions with women. ‘Gyno’ is from the Greek for ‘woman’ and ‘phobia’ is Greek for fear. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines phobias as types of anxiety disorders.
A phobia is more than an occasional fear; it is an extreme, irrational and uncontrollable fear of an animal, object, person, activity, environment or situation. In reality, the object of the phobia presents little or no danger. Most people with phobias understand this, but they have no control over the intensity of their reaction and often feel powerless to overcome it.
The APA classifies gynophobia as a social anxiety disorder (formerly known as a social phobia), in which a person feels strong anxiety about social interactions and fears being humiliated, rejected or embarrassed in social situations. In the case of gynophobia, the sufferer feels this anxiety specifically around women. Men are more likely to have gynophobia, but women can also be gynophobic, and the condition can be present in both adults and children.
Gynophobia should not be confused with misogyny, which is defined as a hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women based on a person’s cultural, social or political beliefs. Misogyny is a chosen point of view, whereas gynophobia is a clinical condition based on an involuntary, physical response due to anxiety. Gynophobia is also different from male homosexuality, in which a man is not sexually attracted to women, but does not fear being around women.
What are the symptoms of gynophobia?
Social phobias, including gynophobia, have both physical and psychological symptoms. They can be mild, moderate, severe, and even disabling. The physical symptoms are a reaction to fear. They come from the release of adrenaline produced during the instinctive fight-or-flight response.
Common physical symptoms include:
- Chest tightness or feeling like you can’t catch your breath
- Feeling lightheaded, dizzy, or like you’re about to pass out
- Trembling or shaking
Other gynophobia symptoms include:
- Avoidance of women
- Awareness that fear of women is irrational
- Dread or worry about having to be around or interact with women
- Guilt or shame about the fear of women
- Inability to control or overcome the fear of women
- Intense panic and strong desire to flee when near women
Children who have a social phobia may not be able to articulate what they are feeling. Their feelings may manifest as clinginess, inconsolable crying, or a temper tantrum.
Anxiety symptoms around women may or may not be disruptive. When they are disruptive, the person with gynophobia may benefit from medical attention. See your doctor early if you recognize the fear of women is interfering with your (or your child’s) ability to live normally. Treatment is often most effective when you address the phobia promptly.
What are the causes of gynophobia?
Experts do not know the exact cause of social phobias. As with many other mental health conditions, the cause is likely a combination of genetic and environmental influences. Some people have very specific experiences or factors in their past that they associate with the fear of women, such a neglectful mother, an abusive encounter with a woman, or chronic social rejection from women. This fear involves an area of the brain called the amygdala, a tiny region that records your reactions to experiences. When you have a similar experience in the present or something triggers your memory, the amygdala reminds you of what you felt during the past experience.
Other people aren’t able to connect any specific incident or trauma with their fear of women. Here, personality traits and temperament may be based on genetics. This could explain why some phobias seem to run in families. However, people also learn and model behaviors from the people around them, especially in their youth. Again, the amygdala makes note of how your family and friends react to certain situations or stimuli, and may learn to mimic those feelings. So, it’s often hard to know whether phobias are a matter of nature or nurture (or a combination of both).
What are the treatments for gynophobia?
If fear of women is preventing you from living a full life—professionally, socially or romantically—there are treatment options. Phobias aren’t signs of weakness, and they’re not imaginary. Phobias are real, clinical disorders, and accepting this fact is the first step toward recovery. From here, you can find a qualified provider or counselor to begin treatment.
Doctors generally recommend treating social phobias when they interfere with your ability to function normally, including at work, in school, and in personal relationships and situations. The most effective gynophobia treatments are forms of psychotherapy:
- Cognitive behavior therapy. This form of psychotherapy, or talk therapy, teaches you to identify and change unhealthy thoughts, emotions and behaviors. With a therapist, you will change your perception of your fear and develop tools for confronting it. You might also discuss possible origins of your gynophobia from your childhood. Therapists usually combine CBT with exposure therapy.
- Exposure therapy. This type of talk therapy gradually and repeatedly exposes you to your fear of women. Sometimes called desensitization therapy, this process uses controlled situations, led by a therapist to teach you anxiety-reducing strategies for your gynophobia. It may start with just thinking about women. Once you feel comfortable managing this level of fear, you may move on to looking at pictures of women or talking to a woman. The goal is to control your fear instead of it controlling you.
Talk therapy is the most successful treatment for long-term relief of phobias. Doctors sometimes recommend medications on a short-term basis for social phobias, as it can help some people transition into talk therapy. Medicines can also help phobias involving temporary social situations, such as fear of flying.
Social phobias, including gynophobia, can lead to complications without treatment. Potential complications include:
- Social isolation, loneliness, and problems with work, school and social relationships
- Substance abuse with alcohol or drugs in an effort to self-medicate and deal with the phobia