Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

Fears about being a rapist

By Amber Samson, LCPC

Nov 4, 20226 minute read

Reviewed byPatrick McGrath, PhD

OCD focused on the fear of rape involves repeated intrusive, obsessive thoughts involving rape that cause intense anxiety or distress. OCD can manifest in many different ways, and sexual themes can range from mild to violent. Rape obsessions are highly distressing to people who experience them and often occur without any desire, cause, or urge. 

These obsessions are very different from sexual fantasies in which one enjoys sexual thoughts and choose to engage them. People who suffer from Harm OCD about rape experience fears that they are bad or dangerous for having violent or harmful intrusive thoughts. These obsessions can lead to intense feelings of guilt and shame. Harm OCD about Rape can include intrusive images about forcing someone to do something sexually or being forced to perform a sexual act. It can also include doubts about whether or not a past sexual encounter was consensual, and one may begin to question their own memory, even when given reassurance or evidence. 

When someone has an intrusive thought about rape they may even experience a groinal response (an unwanted sensation in the genital area interpreted as sexually meaningful) which can cause further doubts about whether they enjoyed the thought or if it aligns with their intentions. They may question their control to stop an impulse to act on intrusive thoughts that go against their values. In this case, the groinal response is connected to the anxiety a person feels and the attention they are giving to that part of the body; this arousal is due to anxiety and is not sexual arousal. 

OCD thoughts like these are ego-dystonic, meaning they are incompatible with a person’s morals and values. People who suffer from obsessions about rape are highly unlikely to act on the thoughts because they often go to great lengths to make sure they wouldn’t act on them and to remove themselves from situations where the thoughts may be triggered in the first place.
  • Intrusive images of rape from TV shows or movies
  • Fear of being sexually aggressive toward one’s partner or someone else
  • Fear of performing a sexual act without someone’s consent
  • Fear about being forced to perform a sexual act without your consent
  • Intrusive doubts about past sexual experiences not being fully consensual, or lack of clarity in sexual memories
  • Fears about feeling any sexual arousal
  • Fears of losing control in sexual encounters

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Common triggers

People with fears about rape in Harm OCD may be triggered by situations involving sexuality or intimacy generally. They may also be triggered when engaging in any media involving sex or arousal whatsoever. As such, they are likely to avoid sexual encounters, dating, and sexual discussions. 

Triggers for people with OCD focused on rape include:

  • Sexual intimacy and sexual acts
  • Sexual scenes in the media and scenes depicting rape
  • Hearing accounts of rape in the news
  • Being alone with people
  • Discussing sexuality, attraction, or dating
  • Media involving rape or sexual intimacy

How can I tell if I’m experiencing rape themes in OCD, and I’m not actually dangerous, or just experiencing anxiety?

With OCD, there is always nagging doubt that brings anxiety and an urge to do compulsions for relief. It often feels urgent and impossible to ignore. People who suffer from OCD may often believe that they are dangerous because they have these thoughts, or that thinking something is the same as acting on it. 

In OCD someone might respond to the anxiety and distress they feel in response to intrusive thoughts or images by avoiding interacting with people, including friends and family. They might avoid certain media, sexual contact, or replace their disturbing thoughts with something else to make themselves feel better, even if only for a brief time. These obsessions are very different from sexual fantasies in which one enjoys sexual thoughts they are having and choose to keep thinking about them.

Common compulsions

When people with rape theme in Harm OCD experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges that cause distress, they may engage in any number of physical or mental behaviors called compulsions in an attempt to relieve their anxiety, erase uncertainty about their feelings or memories, or prevent a feared outcome from happening. Compulsions often provide short-term relief from distress or uncertainty, but they do nothing to keep obsessive thoughts from returning again and again, as 100% certainty is impossible to attain, and intrusive thinking is impossible to control. In time, this causes a vicious cycle of obsessions, anxiety, and compulsions that grant temporary relief, only for obsessions to return with greater anxiety in the future. 

Compulsions performed mentally or physically by people with Harm OCD focused on rape include:

  • Replacing an intrusive thought with a more acceptable thought
  • Avoiding being around people
  • Avoiding sexual scenes in shows or movies
  • Avoiding sexual intimacy
  • Avoiding people they’re attracted to
  • Saying mental prayers in response to disturbing thoughts
  • Mentally reassuring oneself that they aren’t a bad person
  • Mentally reviewing past encounters to make sure they didn’t rape someone
  • Asking friends, family, or past sexual partners for reassurance that they aren’t a rapist

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How to treat OCD fear of rape

Harm OCD focused on themes of rape can be debilitating, but it is highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with a trained professional, people with Harm OCD about rape can get the help that they need to live a more fulfilled life. 

An OCD specialist with training in ERP will begin by guiding you in making a hierarchy, or a list of exposure exercises from least to most anxiety-provoking. The therapist will help you complete these exposures gradually: you will purposefully, intentionally trigger your anxiety or fear, then resist the urge to engage in compulsions like reassurance-seeking or avoidance. An ERP therapist can also help educate you on the OCD cycle and help you to practice self-compassion so that you can find relief from shame and guilt.

Exposure exercises used in ERP therapy for rape themes in OCD may include: 

  • Watching sex scenes in TV or movies
  • Reading accounts of rape from survivors’ perspectives
  • Reading news stories about rape
  • Spending time with friends one has been avoiding
  • Going to social events

If you’re struggling with OCD, As an OCD specialist, I’ve used ERP to help many people regain their lives from OCD. I encourage you to learn about NOCD’s accessible, evidence-based approach to treatment with the NOCD care team to learn how a licensed therapist can help. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP.

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