Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

Fear of becoming a pedophile

By Andrea Fine

Sep 6, 20225 minute read

Reviewed byTaylor Newendorp

Am I a pedophile or is it OCD?

If you have obsessive fear of becoming a pedophile or rapist, it may be a sign that you have Pedophilia OCD or POCD. Here’s what that means:

POCD involves repetitive fears about harming children in a sexual manner. Someone experiencing Pedophilic OCD might begin having intrusive thoughts about whether or not they are attracted to children, prepubescent children and/or minors under the age of 18. These intrusive thoughts typically cause a significant amount of distress and worry.

Someone experiencing these thoughts might start to doubt their sense of identity and self, which often leads to behaviors that provide them relief and “prove” they truly are not attracted to children. We call these behaviors safety-seeking behaviors or compulsions. Individuals struggling with Pedophilic OCD may begin to worry about their past and engage in a mental compulsion like checking their memory to ensure they never have touched a minor in a sexually inappropriate manner.

Worries about sexual attraction to children or becoming a pedophile may even be related to Postpartum OCD in new parents. Someone with Postpartum OCD may question if they have sexually harmed their own baby/child, reviewing their memory for times this may or may not have occurred. Due to the often taboo nature of Postpartum OCD, people often attempt to combat this on their own, afraid of sharing their thoughts with others. This can lead to suffering in silence with reluctance to seek support.

Someone who is a pedophile knows they are attracted to children. They likely do not question whether or not they are. A pedophile will intentionally place themselves around children/minors in order to engage in activities they desire.

Someone with Pedophilic OCD, on the other hand, will go out of their way to avoid being around children and minors due to the fear of behaving inappropriately. Their intrusive thoughts are unwanted and cause distress. They often repetitively research how to get rid of these intrusive thoughts, images, or urges.

Fear of being a pedophile – Common Obsessions

People often characterize their intrusive thoughts from OCD as “bizarre,” or share that they “don’t make sense.” That’s because these thoughts are ego-dystonic, meaning that they don’t align with a person’s identity, values, or actual intentions. Experiencing intrusive thoughts that oppose values that are especially important can be disorienting, confusing, and highly distressful.

People will often reassure themselves by saying things like “I would never hurt my baby in that way,” or “I have never hurt a child or wanted to hurt a child.” Even when they believe that these things are true, the reassurance they feel never provides 100% certainty or stops the thoughts from occurring. They continue to engage in rumination, mental reviewing, self-reassurance and seeking reassurance from others.

Examples of intrusive thoughts when experiencing fear of becoming a pedophile:

  • Have I acted inappropriately around a child in the past?
  • I looked at that child—does that mean I’m a pedophile?
  • Did I look at that child for too long or make them feel uncomfortable?
  • What if I lose control and touch a child inappropriately?
  • Did I feel a sensation in my groin when I looked at that child? That must mean I’m a pedophile
  • Did I touch my baby or inappropriately when changing his/her diaper?
  • Did I have sexually inappropriate thoughts when changing my baby’s diaper or clothing?
  • Did I have thoughts of a sexual nature when giving my baby a bath?  
  • How can I tell if I have OCD and not that I am a pedophile?

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Common Compulsions

These intrusive thoughts can cause extreme anxiety, doubt, and distress. In an attempt to find temporary relief from this distress, people with OCD perform physical or mental acts called compulsions.

Examples of compulsions performed by people with OCD fear of being a pedophile:

  • Avoiding schools, daycare centers, or similar public places where children may be present
  • Avoiding conversations about children or minors
  • Avoiding one’s own children and other children in one’s life
  • Avoidance of giving baths, changing clothes, changing diapers, potty training
  • Asking significant other or a family member to give baths, change diapers
  • Mental Reviewing (past events/memories)
  • Seeking reassurance from self, others, and online
  • Hurrying through baths, diaper changes
  • Researching & repeatedly reading stories about pedophiles and/or molestation
  • “Checking” thoughts/urges/physical sensations
  • Excessive mental analysis in an attempt to “figure out” what intrusive thoughts mean about them

How to treat fear becoming a pedophile

Pedophilic OCD and Postpartum OCD can be debilitating, but they are highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with a trained, licensed professional who specializes in treatment of OCD, you can get on the path to recovery.   

ERP therapy is the gold standard for the treatment of OCD and related disorders. Working closely with a trained ERP specialist, individuals will identify the things or situations that trigger their obsessive thoughts, and the fears that come as a result. An ERP specialist will also help identify compulsive behaviors that individuals may not have recognized on their own. Then together, they will create a hierarchy of triggers and intrusive thoughts ranked by relative distress, and prepare exposures, or situations/activities intended to trigger obsessive thoughts and anxiety in a safe and controlled environment.

Some of these exposures will be practiced during therapy sessions, and then members will be expected to practice them on a daily basis until habituation occurs. Habituation is defined as the reduction of physiological or emotional response as a result of repeated exposure to a stimulus. By frequently, carefully exposing themselves to triggers, an individual will be able to experience less and less distress over time, allowing them to have a better quality of life. This can lead to being more present at work, when socializing, when alone, and when spending time with family and friends. One of the goals of ERP is to become more comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.    

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