Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

Fears about sexual encounters

By Teda Kokoneshi, LMHC

Sep 30, 20225 minute read

Reviewed byPatrick McGrath, PhD

False Memory/Real Event OCD focused on sexual encounters involves fears about having engaged in an interaction of a sexual nature that is upsetting for some reason. This could involve any thoughts about inappropriate behavior, lack of consent, or unreliable memory. A person suffering with this OCD subtype may be plagued by unwanted intrusive false memories about such an event occurring, and may engage in compulsions that are meant to figure out the doubts, such as mental reviewing, seeking reassurance from people that knew them at the time, or even going to the location of the event, whether real or imagined.

Despite all these efforts, the sufferer never seems to alleviate the doubt about their involvement in an unwanted sexual encounter. These doubts persist, and the more the person engages in behaviors or mental acts aimed at making it go away and finding certainty, the stronger OCD becomes. Like with any subtype or OCD theme, the sufferer would be better served by accepting uncertainty in all things.

As mentioned, common obsessions experienced by people with False Memory/Real Event OCD related to Sexual Encounters include:

  • Obsessions about inappropriately touching minors
  • Obsessions about engaging in sexual contact with an adult without having their consent.
  • Obsessions about engaging in sexual contact with an adult when their consent is dubious.
  • Obsessions about being with someone who gave consent, but not being sure whether their consent was valid because of other pressures or dynamics.
  • Feeling uncertain in their memory of a sexual or otherwise physical encounter.

Common triggers

People with Real Event/False Memory OCD related to Sexual Encounters may be triggered by situations involving discussions of matters of consensual sex, sexual trauma, childhood sexual abuse etc. They may be triggered by depictions of these topics in the media and popular culture. They may be triggered by re-visiting the location where they remember an incident to have occurred or coming into contact with people they were with at the time. People with OCD may be triggered by sensory information they associate with a false memory, such as sights, sounds, smells, textures or tastes. Anything that can be associated with the content of their intrusive doubts can be a trigger.

Triggers for people with Sexual Encounter OCD include:

  • News coverage of sex crimes
  • News coverage or other depictions in the media of childhood sexual abuse
  • Hearing personal stories of lack of consent in a sexual encounter
  • Learning about sexual trauma
  • Sights, sounds, scents, textures, or tastes that remind them of the false memory

One way to tell that this is not mere cautiousness is that the false memory appears to strike the sufferer as feeling very real, despite a lack of evidence, memory, or other substantiation. This is because brain imaging has shown that people who struggle with OCD have an overactive amygdala—the part of the brain dealing with fear—which when activated releases a cascade of neurochemicals which create a strong sensation of distress.

In addition, people with Real Event OCD have a strong urge to find out in an undisputable manner whether an incident has occurred or not. This strong urge to figure it out is a telltale sign of OCD—uncertainty surrounding obsessions feels impossible to tolerate. If you notice that the more you engage in compulsions to remove doubt or uncertainty, the less certain you feel about your fears, this may also be a sign of OCD.

Common compulsions

When people with Real Event/False Memory OCD related to Sexual Encounters experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges that cause distress, they may be compelled to revisit the place where they “remember” an event to have happened. They might also ask people who were there at the time for reassurance and details about their own whereabouts at the precise time they remember the event to have happened or if they noticed anything unusual about them before or after. They may research and read stories that are similar to what they believe has happened. In addition, there are mental compulsions such as mental review of the event and self-reassurance. No matter how diligently they go about engaging in these compulsions, their doubts are never satisfied—the more they engage in them, the stronger the urge becomes to keep doing so.

Compulsions performed mentally or physically by people with sexual encounter fears in false memory OCD include:

  • Tracking the person they believe the sexual encounter happened with and making sure they are okay
  • Going back to the place they remember the event to have happened
  • Asking information and reassurance from people who were there
  • Mental review
  • Self-reassurance

How to treat fears about sexual encounters

Real Event/False Memory OCD related to Sexual Encounters can be debilitating for people who struggle with it, but it is highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with a trained ERP therapist, you can learn to accept uncertainty and learn to no longer give in to compulsions that feed OCD.

When someone struggling with OCD learns that they are able to go about their life while accepting uncertainty around their fears, they can free themselves of the self-perpetuating cycle of obsessive fears and compulsions.
By exposing themselves to triggers such as news coverage about sex crimes, personal stories, and others, while resisting the urge to do compulsions like researching or seeking reaassurance, their distress is aroused and they practice sitting with uncertainty around their fears. In time, this allows them to tolerate the uncertainty they feel and reduce the discomfort that comes as a result of their obsessions.

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