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What is OCDOCD SubtypesFears about sperm or semen – When are they a mental health issue?

Fears about sperm or semen – When are they a mental health issue?

7 min read
Stacy Quick, LPC

By Stacy Quick, LPC

Dec 1, 2022

Possibly related to:

It’s natural—and healthy—to be wary of others’ bodily fluids. Coming into contact with saliva, blood, semen, or other potentially contaminated or hazardous substances can, in certain circumstances, be a serious problem.

But as with any fear or anxiety, these worries can spiral out of control, leaving some people living in a state of fear and interfering with their lives—and indeed, even impact their health itself.

If you suspect that your fears about coming into contact with sperm or semen may be keeping you from living the life you want, please know that you’re not alone, and that with the right form of help, you can learn to regain your life from these debilitating fears. Here’s what you should know.

Could my fears be a sign of OCD?

If you’re experiencing repetitive fears about sperm, this may be a sign of Contamination OCD. A person with OCD centered on a fear of sperm can experience a variety of fears related to coming into contact with sperm. This can be triggered by seeing actual semen or sperm, being near areas or things that might contain or be near sperm, or sometimes by seeing other liquids that could contain sperm. People with fears of sperm in OCD may feel unable to know what a substance is with certainty, and worry that it could have sperm on it. In OCD, these worries and fears cause distress and anxiety, often involving rumination on worst-case scenarios of possible contact with sperm. 

The unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or fears about sperm are called obsessions. In response to the anxiety that comes from obsessions, people with OCD will perform compulsions, which can be mental or physical acts that serve to neutralize anxiety or prevent a feared outcome. 

People with this form of OCD may frequently believe that any liquid substance could be or contain semen or sperm and experience obsessions around various types of liquids, or perform compulsions such as avoiding anything that looks like it may contain sperm. They may be overly cautious about their own sperm or others’ sperm or worry that liquids in general may actually be sperm or have traces of sperm on them. OCD instills a sense of intense doubt, so it may be difficult for someone suffering from these OCD fears to distinguish safe situations from potential contamination risks.

OCD fear of sperm – Common obsessions

  • How can I be sure there isn’t sperm on this?
  • What if I come into contact with sperm and don’t know it?
  • What if I become impregnated by someone’s sperm? 
  • How can I be sure that someone else’s sperm isn’t on something I have touched?
  • What if I am swimming and there’s sperm in the pool?
  • What if I touch dirty laundry and get sperm on me?
  • What if I accidentally get sperm on something?
  • Did I clean myself thoroughly enough?

Common triggers

People with fears about coming into contact with sperm may be triggered by situations involving beds, sheets, sex, public restrooms, their own bathrooms, sinks, outhouses, dirty clothes, or any surface where they feel that there could potentially be sperm. They may also be triggered by any liquid or substance in general, particularly in bedrooms, during sexual encounters, in public places, or in restroom areas.

Common triggers for people with fears of sperm in Contamination OCD may include:

  • Sexual encounters
  • Bedrooms
  • Sitting on beds or sheets
  • Public bathrooms
  • Personal bathrooms
  • Liquids or sticky substances
  • Sinks
  • Public pools
  • Floors that appear wet
  • Toilet seats
  • Underwear contact
  • Laundry rooms
  • Dirty laundry

How can I tell if I’m experiencing OCD focused on a fear of sperm, and not exhibiting a healthy level of caution and cleanliness?

This is an excellent question. To know if you may be suffering from OCD, you need to learn to recognize the OCD cycle.

The OCD cycle is composed of: 1) intrusive thoughts, feelings, images, or urges; 2) anxiety or distress that comes as a result; 3) compulsions performed to relieve distress and anxiety or prevent a feared outcome. Understanding this cycle can help you distinguish OCD from other conditions or healthy behavior. Something to keep in mind is that if you are feeling an intense urgency to know if something is or contains sperm immediately and with certainty, that is a red flag that OCD may be at work.

Intrusive thoughts or doubts about contamination and safety can and do happen to everyone, and most people are concerned about cleanliness and contamination to a degree. Most people who do not have OCD are able to brush these thoughts off rather easily, or trust in their own decisions and knowledge. However, people with OCD struggle to do this, believing that they cannot tolerate the slightest uncertainty or perceived risk relating to sperm, contamination, and health concerns. This is where OCD holds its power. People with OCD focused on a fear of coming into possible contact with sperm can get better by learning that they can tolerate uncertainty about contamination and health, just as they do in other areas of their lives.

Common compulsions

When people with OCD focused on fears surrounding sperm experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges that cause distress, they may engage in compulsions, which are physical or mental acts done to alleviate the distress and discomfort caused by intrusive thoughts or prevent a feared outcome. Compulsions may provide temporary relief, but do nothing to keep obsessions from returning again and again, with an even stronger urge to perform compulsions. Performing compulsions inadvertently strengthens obsessions and fears, reinforcing the idea that obsessions posed an actual threat or danger.

Compulsions performed mentally or physically by people with Contamination OCD with a focus on fears of sperm may include:

How to treat fear of sperm

OCD focused on a fear of sperm can be debilitating, but it is highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with an OCD specialist, you can find freedom from the OCD cycle. 

ERP is the gold standard of treatment for OCD and many other anxiety disorders. It is backed by decades of clinical research proving its effectiveness and it shows promising results within 12-25 sessions on average. With ERP, you will increase your ability to accept uncertainty about liquids and contamination, and you will become increasingly able to sit with anxiety and discomfort relating to sperm contamination.

In ERP, you’re gradually and safely exposed to the thoughts and situations that are likely to trigger your fears about sperm and the resulting anxiety. With your therapist’s guidance and support, you will resist the urge to respond with compulsions, interrupting the vicious cycle of OCD. By doing this over time, you will learn that you are able to tolerate anxiety and you will experience decreased anxiety and distress in response to OCD triggers.

Examples of possible exposures done to treat fears of sperm in Contamination OCD may include:

  • Touching sticky substances 
  • Sitting on and touching sheets
  • Using public restrooms
  • Touching bathroom sinks
  • Touching toilet seats
  • Sitting on toilet seats
  • Touching dirty laundry
  • Watching videos about sperm on surfaces (black light videos)
  • Writing a worst-case scenario script about spreading contaminants through sperm or having health issues related to contact with sperm

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.” 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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Taylor Newendorp

Taylor Newendorp

Network Clinical Training Director

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.

Gary Vandalfsen

Gary Vandalfsen

Licensed Therapist, Psychologist

I’ve been practicing as a licensed therapist for over twenty five years. My main area of focus is OCD with specialized training in Exposure and Response Prevention therapy. I use ERP to treat people with all types of OCD themes, including aggressive, taboo, and a range of other unique types.

Madina Alam

Madina Alam

Director of Therapist Engagement

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.

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