Why are most emetophobes (people with a fear of being sick) female?
Research suggests that the prevalence of emetophobia (a fear of being sick) is somewhere between 0.1% and 8.8% of the population, and that 85-97% of sufferers are female. Why though? Well, contrary to popular belief, a fear of being sick (or any fears or phobias actually) isn’t something that happens ‘to’ a person, it’s something they do – unknowingly – to themselves. The phobia is created by the sufferer’s belief systems, and a series of unhelpful thinking styles. The main thinking styles I have identified as responsible for emetophobia sufferers are: ‘black and white’, ‘obsessive/brooding’, and ’catastrophic’ (there are others, but these are the main ones). These thinking styles are shared relatively equally amongst male and females, so nothing yet to explain the huge gender difference.
What are the remaining key pieces of the emetophobia puzzle?
‘Disgust propensity’ and ‘digest sensitivity’ play a significant role in emetophobia. Disgust propensity describes how often a person feels disgusted about certain things, and disgust sensitivity describes the extent to which people evaluate these disgust-related experiences negatively. So, ‘disgust propensity’ and ‘digest sensitivity’ relate to how often and how much a person feels disgust about things like their bodily fluids, sweating, going to the loo and, indeed, being sick.
Research into Emetophobia has covered disgust propensity: one recent research study demonstrated the link between emetophobia and disgust propensity and sensitivity (van Overveld, de Jong, Peters, van Hout, & Bouman, 2008). The emetophobic group demonstrated significantly higher levels of both disgust propensity and disgust sensitivity compared to the control group. Additionally, disgust sensitivity was the best predictor of the severity of emetophobic symptoms. (Read our Emetophobia Self Help Disgust Propensity Guide here)
How upbringing plays a part
So, emetophobes usually like to be neat and tidy. They don’t tend to particularly like sweating and they love to be clean. I don’t want to sound sexist or anything, but, many girls are brought up to be ‘sugar and spice and all things nice’, and not so little boys. Boys are generally expected to get dirty, come home covered in mud, wee on the toilet seat etc. Also, for men, going for a wee isn’t such a private affair as it is for women, because of open urinals, boys get used to weeing in front of others. You don’t see many women popping for a wee behind a bush on their way home after the pubs close! Men on the other hand… Girls are often brought up in a way which encourages them to maintain much higher levels of personal hygiene than boys and to see many more things as ‘disgusting’.
As a result of lower levels of disgust propensity and sensitivity, men are more likely than women to see vomiting as amusing, rather than revolting. Because of this, more women than men have a fear of being sick.
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