OCD subtypes
P-OCD

Why POCD Arousal Is Not a Sign of Real Desire

4 min read
Keara Valentine
By Keara Valentine
All types of OCD include obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted and intrusive thoughts, feelings, urges and doubts, while compulsions are repetitive physical or mental actions performed in an attempt to relieve distress and anxiety

Note: This post contains discussions of pedophilia and a form of OCD that causes people to fear that they may be a pedophile. We recognize that these topics are very difficult for many to discuss — this post is simply intended to educate and inform those with concerns that may relate to pedophilia OCD. 

Intrusive thoughts happen to nearly everyone. Every once in a while, most of us find our minds wandering off very suddenly into uncomfortable territory. These intrusive thoughts can even make us question ourselves. That discomfort is no stranger to those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). For those with OCD, intrusive thoughts are frequently recurring and cause substantial distress, leading to compulsions in an effort to try to quell the discomfort. 

These thoughts can be particularly unsettling for people with various subtypes of OCD. Pedophilia OCD, or POCD, is no exception to this. In fact, it can be one of the most uncomfortable subtypes of OCD to discuss. Research suggests that although POCD is fairly common among people with OCD, it goes largely unnoticed and misdiagnosed in most patients because the shame surrounding POCD thoughts is so strong, they don’t want to tell even a therapist. 

However, POCD is a fairly common form of OCD, and having POCD does not make someone a pedophile. The concern around the intrusive thoughts that POCD can bring is completely understandable, but it’s important to remember that while POCD may have worrisome mental and even physical symptoms, they are just that: symptoms of OCD — and nothing more. 

What is POCD?

While pedophilia itself is defined as sexual attraction to children, pedophilia OCD or POCD is a subtype of OCD that causes fears or worries that one might be a pedophile. It often involves intrusive, sexual thoughts around prepubescent children. The important distinction between pedophilia and POCD is that sexual thoughts of this nature are, by definition, enjoyable to pedophiles, while those with POCD find these thoughts extremely uncomfortable. 

Occasionally with POCD, these intrusive thoughts can cause physical arousal, also known as ‘groinal response’, and this can be incredibly unsettling for those dealing with POCD. Research has shown that arousal comes in all shapes and forms and, in most cases, physical arousal is not at all linked to our values and beliefs but simply triggered by sexual relevance. Often times the groinal response is linked to anxiety. 

POCD arousal: a biological response

Sudden physical arousal can happen to anyone as a result of intrusive thoughts — not just those with POCD or OCD. Simply experiencing a thought that is sexual in nature can cause physical arousal. When humans sense or imagine something that is generally sexual, the brain sometimes signals the body to experience arousal. Typically, the brain sends these messages before true values and preferences can be taken into consideration. 

The physical arousal those with POCD may experience as a result of their intrusive thoughts is no exception. If someone with POCD has an intrusive sexual thought about a child, they can experience sexual arousal as a result. However, this arousal is not a result of specifically thinking about children — it’s a result of experiencing a sexual thought in general.

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Often when someone with POCD experiences physical arousal as a result of these thoughts, they may be further disturbed by their obsession, and their mind goes around and around: “How could I think this?” or “Would I ever act on this?” or “Does this mean I really am a pedophile?” The physical response to such thoughts is purely biological and can happen to anyone. 

How is POCD treated? 

Like other forms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, POCD can be successfully treated with exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. A form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), ERP has been proven in studies to be incredibly effective in treating OCD, making it the first and best choice for anyone living with OCD or POCD. ERP works in a very simple way by exposing those with OCD to potentially triggering thoughts or situations to work on preventing compulsive responses to their obsessions in a safe and controlled environment. Through ERP, one works on tolerating uncertainty and reducing compulsions such as reassurance seeking. Over time and with repeated practice, ERP can help those with OCD end the obsessive-compulsive cycle and regain freedom over their thoughts and actions. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with POCD, you may fear seeking treatment because of the stigma surrounding pedophilia. Remember that having POCD, and experience POCD related groinal arousal, does not mean you are a pedophile, and a good therapist that specializes in OCD will never judge you for your intrusive thoughts.

If you’re ready to seek treatment for POCD, we recommend looking for an ERP-certified therapist. It’s also easy to find POCD treatment virtually through services like NOCD. In fact, online therapy provided through NOCD is one of the most affordable and accessible options for ERP therapy available. 

With a nationwide network (as well as the UK and Australia), the NOCD clinical team guarantees to find members of a licensed ERP therapist in your state. Therapy is conducted via one-on-one calls or video sessions, and you can be sure that all NOCD therapists have experience treating various forms of OCD with ERP therapy. Schedule a free call to get started finding the right care provider for you.

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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ERP Therapy
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
OCD Subtypes
OCD Treatment

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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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