You can experience a phobia of anything — even women.
Feeling uncomfortable in new situations is common. If you’re surrounded by a group of women you don’t know or who you don’t feel aligned with, it might make you feel apprehensive.
But when those feelings involve all women, and you go to great lengths to avoid being around any women, you might be living with gynophobia.
Gynophobia is a fear — or phobia — of women. People with this condition often experience fear or anxiety that can interfere with daily life.
And despite common myth, gynophobia is not simply misogyny but a real phobia.
Gynophobia can impair daily life for those living with this phobia. While there’s no formal diagnosis for gynophobia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition (DSM-5), it’s often classified as a “specific phobia” in a clinical setting.
Fear of women can become a phobia in the clinical sense when you overreact to the situation. Like any phobia, gynophobia can cause immediate fear or anxiety at the thought or action of being around women.
Instead of being afraid of women only in a hostile setting (like gang violence), with gynophobia, you’re typically fearful of all women everywhere.
Gynophobia is not misogyny
Misogyny is a substantial prejudice or hatred of women that can cause avoidance. Unlike phobia, a mental health disorder, misogyny is a damaging form of toxic masculine ideology.
Ideologies make up your system of ideals. They may be heavily ingrained but can be consciously changed or adjusted.
Phobias aren’t controllable and often require specific forms of therapy or clinical treatment to overcome.
Gynophobia isn’t a formal diagnosis. However, it’s considered a “specific phobia” according to the DSM-5. Signs and symptoms of gynophobia are unique, and how you experience it may vary from others’ experiences.
Under the guidelines of a phobia, symptoms of gynophobia may be physical and emotional, or psychological.
Physical symptoms might include:
- shortness of breath
- changes in heart rate
- flushed skin
- choking sensation
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- tingling sensations
Psychological or emotional symptoms may include:
- intense fear or anxiety
- feeling a need to escape
- a sense of desperation
- fear of death
- feeling out of control
- panic attacks
Living with a phobia can impact your daily life. You might not go places, see people, or participate in activities because of fear and anxiety. With gynophobia, for example, you could go a day without eating to avoid grocery shopping around women.
The DSM-5 is the American Psychiatric Association’s guidebook for diagnosing mental health conditions.
Gynophobia is not in the DSM-5. Still, phobias are considered mental health disorders.
By DSM-5 definition, phobias may be characterized by clinically significant disturbances in:
- emotional regulation
According to the DSM-5, phobias are associated with significant distress in critical areas of life. Phobias also might reflect dysfunction with processes of functioning, such as:
In the case of phobias,
For example, if you’ve had an experience with women that resulted in fear and anxiety, amygdala dysfunction might cause you to experience exaggerated fear in future situations with women.
But differences in your amygdala may be only partially responsible for phobias.
Other factors might include:
- experiencing a traumatic event
- witnessing a traumatic event
- environmental influence
- cultural influences
However, you don’t have to have a traumatic event to develop a phobia. Many people don’t recall just when or where their phobias began.
For many people — particularly children — phobias begin as instinctual fears, like fear of the dark. But because of a combination of factors, those fears don’t fade after childhood and can progress into phobias.
Anyone can develop gynophobia, but some factors may increase your chances of experiencing this phobia, such as:
- temperament, especially a predisposition for neuroticism or behavioral inhibition
- home environment
- parental over-protectiveness
- experiencing abuse or neglect early in life
Like most phobias, gynophobia is typically treated with psychotherapy. But if you have a lot of difficulties daily, a doctor may also suggest medication to ease some of the symptoms of your phobia.
The most common options for phobia treatment typically include:
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
CBT is psychotherapy that involves identifying and understanding distorted thought patterns.
In gynophobia, this can mean talking about what you find threatening about women. Your therapist might guide you in exploring your concerns, no matter how irrational they might sound or feel.
Phobias don’t have to make sense. With CBT, your therapist will help you find ways to move past anxieties. You may also develop new habits and coping mechanisms to help reduce a phobia’s effect on your daily life.
Exposure therapy is sometimes considered “part two” of CBT, but it can also be an independent therapy.
During exposure therapy, you’ll be asked to confront your fear of women in micro-doses.
This could mean starting by sitting in the same room with a pair of women’s shoes, for example, or listening to a woman’s voice on a recording while your therapist is present.
The goal of exposure therapy is to help you build a tolerance to what troubles you in the same way you’d create a tolerance to a new food flavor or aroma.
How quickly you’re taken through exposure therapy will depend on the severity of gynophobia and how much it distresses you.
Gynophobia isn’t only about feeling afraid when you encounter women. The symptoms you experience can cause physical challenges, like panic attacks.
To help take the edge off some of the symptoms that can significantly impact your daily life, you may be prescribed:
Because medication can provide only symptom relief, it’s typically used along with psychotherapy and not as a stand-alone treatment for phobias.
Feeling an intense, debilitating fear of women is a phobia known as gynophobia. A common misconception is that gynophobia is just misogyny, but it is not.
While you can’t be officially diagnosed with gynophobia, it does meet the DSM-5 criteria for a specific phobia.
Anyone can develop this phobia, though you may have a higher chance of experiencing it if you have a history of:
- genetic predispositions
- certain environmental exposures
Phobias aren’t something you can control. However, treatment might help you successfully overcome your fears.
If you live with gynophobia and feel overwhelmed or cannot leave your home for treatment, you can seek support 24/7 by calling the SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline: 877-726-4727 or the NAMI Helpline: 800-950-6264.
If you’d prefer an online chat forum where you won’t hear a female voice, you can visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s online chat feature.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers more than suicide prevention. Representatives can provide guidance on several mental health conditions and are always ready to provide support if you’re in distress.