What is Sexual OCD?
Everyone experiences intrusive thoughts: “Did I turn off the lights?” “Why didn’t I say something different?” “Did I remind my son to take out the trash?” We tend to pay more attention to some of these thoughts than others. Intrusive thoughts about fear of sexual perversion like sexually harming children, sex with animals, and other sexual thoughts that are immoral, taboo, or that oppose one’s values or religious beliefs may pop into people’s heads.
For people with OCD, passing and innocuous thoughts are more difficult to accept or dismiss, instead causing strong feelings of disgust, shame, worry, or anxiety. When these thoughts involve strongly held values or loved ones, the resulting feelings may be especially debilitating.
This is why people with OCD who experience these types of thoughts are usually filled with guilt and shame, and may question their own identity and values, or worry that there is something wrong with them since they aren’t able to control their thoughts to align with their identity and values.
This is one reason that sexual subtypes of OCD can go untreated for a long time. People with fear of sexual perversion OCD may experience intense worries that they are responsible or culpable for their thoughts, even though they don’t want them and most often actively resist their thoughts by doing compulsions. As a result, it can be extremely difficult for them to divulge their intrusive thoughts to anyone out of fear for judgment or consequences.
Sexual OCD – Common Obsessions
- Did I touch that child?
- Do I keep having these thoughts because I like it?
- Did I do something sexually inappropriate to someone in the past?
- Did I touch the cat’s genitals?
- Do I want to mate with an animal?
- Do I want to have sex with the lady in the senior home?
- I’m a bad person
- What if I touched that person right now?
- Am I attracted to my relative?
People with fear of sexual perversion may be triggered by situations including:
- Going past playgrounds or schools
- Going past senior homes
- Visiting beaches
- Holding pets
- Watching shows like Criminal Minds or Law and Order
- Holding babies
- Sex scenes on TV/movies
- Talking about attraction or dating with others
- Viewing media involving children
How can I tell if the deviant thoughts are sexual OCD, and don’t reflect my own identity or desires?
Sexual deviant thoughts are not pleasurable, fantasies, intentional, or in line with one’s values.
In people with OCD, these thoughts cause distress, fear, shame, high levels of anxiety, and feelings of disgust. Thoughts often follow that question why the thoughts occurred, or why one would have thoughts that are so unrelated to one’s actual desires or urges.
For people with OCD, intrusive thoughts, images, urges, or feelings cause distress that they then attempt to relieve through behaviors called compulsions. When thoughts or images occur that cause distress, a person with OCD feels the need to engage in some type of mental or physical action intended to get rid of fear or anxiety, or to prevent an unwanted outcome.
People struggling with fear of sexual perversion experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges may:
- Engage in mental checking: “Did I touch that person? Let me replay the events.”
- Retrace steps to make sure they couldn’t have touched anyone
- Replay conversations
- Say prayers to get rid of thoughts
- Tell themselves that they are not a bad person
- Seek reassurance from others that they don’t want these thoughts or urges
- Seek reassurance from others that they have never acted inappropriately in past situations
- Research their thoughts in forums, discussions, or websites
- Watch the news to make sure there are no local stories about sex crimes that they may have forgotten about
- Avoid situations where they may feel unwanted urges or thoughts
- Avoid leaving the house
- Avoid spending time with family, friends or relatives who could potentially be involved in their thoughts
How to treat fear of sexual perversion
|Fear of sexual perversion in OCD can be debilitating for people who struggle with them, but they are highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with a professional who specializes in OCD treatment, you can learn to manage sexual OCD symptoms and live in confidence with your identity and values.
In ERP, you will carefully and gradually expose yourself to situations related to your anxiety-provoking fear of sexual perversion, with the help, support, and guidance of your therapist. The goal of this treatment is to sit with these thoughts without engaging in compulsions.
That is why the success of ERP therapy depends on response prevention, which is the practice of not engaging in compulsive behaviors when obsessions—or intrusive thoughts, images, urges, or feelings—cause anxiety and distress. By practicing response prevention, people with OCD can habituate to the anxiety caused by sexual intrusive thoughts, so the thoughts cause less and less distress over time, and they can live their lives free from compulsions.
If you’re struggling with fear of sexual perversion, there is hope. Once you learn that having a thought does not mean that you are likely to act on it and does not correlate with your identity or values, you can experience less fear, shame, and guilt about the thoughts that OCD brings about.