Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD
OCD subtypes
Relationship OCD

How to Navigate Intimate Relationships and OCD

4 min read
Keara Valentine
By Keara Valentine

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can affect anyone, creating obsessive thoughts that often lead to compulsions that, over time, can interfere with various parts of your daily life including day-to-day activities, work and intimate relationships.

There are many things that can trigger OCD — including thoughts, images and urges — but it’s also entirely possible for OCD symptoms to be triggered without an obvious external factor, which can make it difficult to navigate intimate relationships. Whether OCD is interfering with your overall relationship satisfaction or leading to sexual dysfunction, it’s important to remember that it’s  possible for someone with OCD to successfully navigate intimate relationships. 

Sexual dysfunction can happen in any intimate relationship, but it may be worse when someone in the relationship has OCD. Research suggests there may be a link between sexual dysfunction and OCD, as OCD is associated with lower sex drive, lower satisfaction with sex, worse sexual functioning, disgust with sexual activities, dissatisfaction with a sexual partner and fear of having sex. Some studies report high levels of sexual dissatisfaction and sexual dysfunction in those with OCD.

Plus, if someone is taking medication to help treat OCD, there may be side effects that could also impact intimate relationships. Many selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, that are commonly prescribed to help treat and manage OCD have the risk of sexual dysfunction as a side effect. For someone with a specific OCD subtype, there may also be more specific reasons why they have difficulty with intimacy.

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Relationship OCD

People with relationship OCD struggle with obsessions and compulsions related to their feelings about intimate relationships. This can range from unwanted, distressing thoughts about the quality and strength of their love and relationship to doubts related to attractiveness, sexual desirability and whether or not their significant other is “right” for them. This can be extremely distressing and may lead to sexual dysfunction — if you’re not feeling secure in your relationship, it’s understandable to experience changes in your sex drive and struggle with relationship satisfaction overall.

Contamination OCD

One of the more common subtypes, contamination OCD, is marked by a person having obsessive thoughts and fears about getting sick or being contaminated with or spreading germs. Related to intimate relationships, people with this subtype of OCD may have an obsessive fear about bodily fluids or getting HIV or another sexually transmitted disease, but any contamination concerns can interfere with sexual intimacy. Common compulsions that could affect intimate relationships include repeatedly washing or cleaning oneself, or even fully avoiding the touch of others as the way to minimize contact with germs.    

Sexual orientation or homosexual OCD

People with constant obsessions about their sexual orientation have what is referred to as sexual orientation or homosexual OCD (HOCD). The unwanted and intrusive thoughts related to sexual preference can interfere with intimate relationships as someone with HOCD seeks complete certainty about their attraction. This can lead to overanalyzingsexual encounters to try to gauge one’s sexuality, or avoidance of sexual encounters altogether.

How to treat sexual dysfunction if you have OCD

If you have sexual dysfunction and OCD, there are ways to treat each in an effort to have normalcy in your relationship. It can seem embarrassing to openly discuss your sexual difficulties and intimate feelings, but it can be helpful to you as well as your partner. 

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Join a support group

Many communities have OCD support groups that can be a great resource. Groups present those with OCD the opportunity to hear from others about how they are coping with their feelings caused by sexual difficulties and OCD. It can be extremely validating to be reminded that you are not alone in this.

Get your partner involved

If you’re in an intimate relationship, it might be helpful to have your partner with you in therapy treatment. Giving your partner an opportunity to understand your OCD symptoms and concerns can help both of you manage the situation. If your partner is not aware of the challenges you are facing, it can lead to misunderstandings and false assumptions which could prevent you both from building intimacy as well as trust. Be sure to discuss this option with your therapist to ensure that they are able to involve your partner in sessions.

Tell your treatment provider

Beyond social support, there are medical options to help treat sexual dysfunction and OCD. Through exposure response prevention (ERP) therapy, your therapist can help you gain control of your OCD which could improve sexual dysfunction, depending on the type.

ERP can take varying amounts of time depending on the person and the severity of symptoms. However, ERP is the most effective OCD treatment for a reason — it works to improve the lives of those with OCD.
With modern digital therapy methods, ERP is now more accessible than ever. NOCD has a nationwide network of licensed therapists specializing in the treatment of OCD who are ready to help you take back control of your symptoms. Schedule a free call with our team anytime to help find a licensed therapist in your state and begin treatment from the comfort of your home.

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Keara Valentine

Keara E. Valentine, Psy.D., is a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University School of Medicine in the OCD and Related Disorders Track, where she specializes in the assessment and treatment of OCD and related disorders. Dr. Valentine utilizes behavioral-based therapies including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) with children, adolescents, and adults experiencing anxiety-related disorders.

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Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
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NOCD Therapists specialize in treating Relationship OCD

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Taylor Newendorp

Taylor Newendorp

Licensed Therapist, MA

I started as a therapist over 14 years ago, working in different mental health environments. Many people with OCD that weren't being treated for it crossed my path and weren't getting better. I decided that I wanted to help people with OCD, so I became an OCD therapist, and eventually, a clinical supervisor. I treated people using Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and saw people get better day in and day out. I continue to use ERP because nothing is more effective in treating OCD.

Madina Alam

Madina Alam

Licensed Therapist, LCMHC

When I started treating OCD, I quickly realized how much this type of work means to me because I had to learn how to be okay with discomfort and uncertainty myself. I’ve been practicing as a licensed therapist since 2016. My graduate work is in mental health counseling, and I use Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy because it’s the gold standard of OCD treatment.

Tamara Harrison

Tamara Harrison

Licensed Therapist, MA

I have personally struggled with OCD and know what it's like to feel controlled by intrusive thoughts and compulsions, and to also overcome it using the proper therapy. I’ve been a licensed therapist since 2017. I have an M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and practice Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy. I know by experience how effective ERP is in treating OCD symptoms.

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