Gymnophobia

Fear of Nudity

David Cross (left) portrayed fiction's most famous gymnophobe, Tobias Fünke, in the Arrested Development TV series.. Dave M. Benett/Getty Images Entertainment

Gymnophobia, or the fear of nudity, is a highly personalized phobia. Some people with this fear are afraid only of being naked in public, as is the case in communal showers or changing rooms. However, some people also fear being naked while they're with their partner or even when they're on their own. Others fear being naked alone as well. Many people with gymnophobia are unable to participate in sexual activities, and may develop a more generalized fear of sex that stems from their gymnophobia.

In extreme cases, this fear can even lead to a phobia of bathing or showering. Some people are comfortable with their own nakedness, but fear the nudity of others.

What Causes Gymnophobia?

Gymnophobia can have many different causes. Those who have been through a sexual trauma are certainly at increased risk for the phobia, partially because they feel especially vulnerable when naked or they experience nudity as a triggering event.

A fear of nudity (or, more commonly, a fear of sex) can also be brought about by being raised in a conservative culture or religion that frowns on nudity and sexual expression. Children and young teens may also develop this fear if they are bullied or shamed for some reason related to their bodies, for example, if they are developing more or less rapidly than their peers.

Gymnophobia is sometimes related to other anxieties as well, such as the fear of vulnerability or the fear of intimacy.

It may also be linked to body dysmorphic disorder, social anxiety, and other conditions that cause people to be unusually critical of themselves. Lastly, having surgical scars or other disfigurements can cause increased shame of one's body that can easily develop into gymnophobia.

Coping With Gymnophobia

Many people with gymnophobia find that simple adjustments help them to keep their fears at bay.

For example, they may refuse to shop in stores that have communal dressing rooms, they can skip the shower after a workout, and they may have sex with the lights off. For mild to moderate gymnophobia, this can be all that's required to keep the condition from disrupting their life.

Over time, however, the fear can worsen, and gymnophobic persons can find themselves changing an increasingly long list of activities in order to prevent showing their bodies. It's when gymnophobia is having a profoundly disruptive effect on a person's life - for example, they cease to bathe - that it is necessary to take action.

Gymnophobia, like all phobias, responds well to a variety of treatment methods. Depending on your therapist's school of thought, you may be encouraged to probe your past to determine the root cause of your fear. Or you may simply learn techniques for overcoming your current fearful thoughts. Whichever path you take, overcoming gymnophobia takes time and effort, but the rewards are well worth the trouble.

Source:

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5™ (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.

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