I often participate in international academic conferences where I have professional and research conversations with men and women. Some of the women are very pretty and scantily dressed. This makes me somewhat nervous during the conversation; my concentration level drops from 100% to about 80%.

Moreover, there are some physical phoenomena that are difficult to hide: my voice slightly trembles, my body slightly sweats, and my gaze sometimes wanders from the woman's face to other parts of her body. These phoenomena are not very pronounced, but they are still noticeable. They probably make the woman feel uncomfortable.

When I can, I try to avoid conversations with such women, and instead have conversations with men or with older women (that usually wear a more formal attire). But, sometimes it is not possible since there are specific women who are experts in the fields that are related to my work.

What can I do to prevent the anxiety, so that I can focus on the professional aspects of the conversation?

  • 4
    I think a country tag would help as well... From my perspective, I see this as nothing more than the objectification of women, but that may be due to the culture I am part of. Jul 30 '16 at 22:19
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    A great piece of advice my mother (who, incidentally, is a woman) once gave me: Focus on her hair. It's close enough to her eyes to easily make eye contact if you need to, and gives you a focal point away from the rest of her body.
    – Pedro
    Jul 31 '16 at 3:45
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    If you flex the muscles in your arms it will deflect blood from other parts of your body.This has helped some and I hope it is of some help to you.
    – Autistic
    Jul 31 '16 at 5:46
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    @silencedmessage: You may be ignoring some basic biology. And the poster didn't say anything about these women doing anything wrong - he clearly expresses that the problem is his.
    – gnasher729
    Jul 31 '16 at 18:48
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    @Pedro and Autistic: Your comments might be the only really useful advice posted, so you might turn that into an answer.
    – gnasher729
    Jul 31 '16 at 18:50

If you find yourself reacting to her attractiveness - nothing wrong about that. What you need to do, however, is keep your reaction under control. Repressing most probably won't work. Pausing to take a breath, acknowledging your reaction to her attractiveness, and letting your reaction go out of your conscious mind and disappear is probably the better alternative.

Honestly acknowledge to yourself that they are very attractive, and get down to business. Because you have business to get down to, and you are not going to give a favorable impression of yourself to anyone including these young women by failing to do what you were commissioned to do.

  • I agree the naked point is gratuitously distracting and not really relevant. I'd suggest dropping the first two paragraphs. The rest is absolutely correct: your response, and whether you respond, is entirely up to you and is something you need to fix. A psychological counselor may be able to help you develop coping techniques.
    – keshlam
    Jul 31 '16 at 1:05
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    keshlam - I dropped my first two paragraphs, as per your suggestion. Jul 31 '16 at 1:39

To be blunt, this is an issue that you need to deal with, not the women you are interacting with. First and foremost, color me highly skeptical to say the least that women at an "academic conference" are "scantily clad". That does not jibe with any academic conference I have ever heard of, like, anywhere. But regardless, even if all the women at said conference are wearing string bikinis, the fact that you can't concentrate around them is your problem, not theirs. Millions of men around the world are able to concentrate just fine when surrounded by women dressed in all manner of clothing.

My first recommendation would be to talk to a therapist. You may not want to do this; well, what would you like to do less: speak to a therapist and get over what sounds like deep seated gender-oriented anxiety issues, or do poorly at your conference because you never addressed them? It will necessarily be hard and I predict there are a great many things you will hear in those talks that you will not like, but

If you are in the United States you might get away with asking for some kind of religious accommodation but I think that's unlikely. I do not know if you are religious and am only guessing because I honestly have not met very many non-religious people with your particular hang-ups with the opposite sex. However, I don't believe that you can expect other people to cover up to a level you deem appropriate. That is not accommodating your religious beliefs so much as it is forcing everyone else at the conference to be subservient to yours.

At the end of the day - and this may well be one of the tough things that your therapist tells you, but it doesn't make it any less true - I think you're best off considering that each and every single woman you are losing concentration over due to "scanty clothing" is a human being in their own right with their own thoughts, feelings, desires, and expectations. In fact, given that this is an academic conference I would go so far as to say that many of these women may know as much or more about your field than you do and you may well find yourself in a situation where you can learn things from them. I suspect that thinking of women as primarily sexual objects is something that has been ingrained in you from a young age; considering why each woman you meet, individually, is there might help you begin to overcome this.

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    Although you've raised some very good points in your answer, but as some of the comments under the original question have said, the OP hasn't suggested that the women are doing anything wrong nor that they should change their style of dress. He's specifically asking how he can address his anxiety.
    – K Vaughan
    Aug 1 '16 at 15:00
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    Not really helpful, comes off as an attack of the OP. Aug 1 '16 at 19:28
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    @NotVonKaiser I had to join the workplace stack exchange just to downvote this answer, so blatant was its ignorance of the original question. The asker is trying to deal with it, not trying to get the women to. The asker did not mention anything about looking for accomodations or a way to avoid his problem; he wants to overcome it. He also specifically said that some of the women he talks to do in fact know more than he does, which is why he wants/needs to talk to them. The only real answer in your post is the one sentence "My recommendation would be to talk to a therapist."
    – Aaron
    Jan 26 '17 at 14:11
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    @NotVonKaiser Also, I am not so skeptical about the "scantily clad" claim. I worked for years in an academic environment and can confirm some people do dress inappropriately. One time a professor told a colleague she looked like a "hooker" - yes, he actually used that word. The woman was very upset, as she should have been. I think her skirt was shorter than her boots, so I agree factually internally, but the comment was completely uncalled for and out of line, very unprofessional comment. Nonetheless, the woman was indeed scantily clad. I've seen others in academia dress similar.
    – Aaron
    Jan 26 '17 at 14:26
  • @NotVonKaiser "Talk to a therapist" - I support this. Due to the comment length restriction, I could not elaborate on my above two points, so they may appear condescending, especially given my opening line. I just wanted to add this one to make sure that it is apparent that I do, in fact, support what you are suggesting despite the negative fluff of the rest of the answer.
    – Aaron
    Jan 26 '17 at 14:42

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