Since you’re seeking an answer to this question, you are likely concerned with being a “good” or moral person. As such, you might feel incredibly triggered by any thought or tendency that threatens what you interpret as being “good.” I understand that.
I, too, have felt ashamed of my thoughts and feelings and become desperate to figure out what they “mean.” I, too, have fixated on what it means to be “good” and whether or not I’m meeting my standards. It’s terrifying to not know if you can trust your own brain, your own desire. However, for whatever comfort it’s worth, know that it’s incredibly common to both be turned on by things that we otherwise find reprehensible and, unfortunately, to feel confusion and shame about it. You’re not alone in that.
With the guidance of April Kilduff, LMHC, LCPC, LPCC, a therapist who specializes in OCD and anxiety disorders, let’s dive into the difference between fantasy and true desire, the reason why you might be so worried about being turned on by violence, and how you can get help if this proving to be a hindrance in your life.
Why am I turned on by violence?
First, it’s necessary to distinguish between fantasies and things we want to happen in real life. Researchers and mental health professionals in the field of sex psychology seem to agree that these things do not always overlap. They can, but it’s widely accepted that people commonly have sexual fantasies that are otherwise thought of as “taboo,” and that may be otherwise entirely unacceptable to the people who fantasize themselves.
Kilduff says, “Fantasy is a safe place where we can explore anything and everything we can think of, no matter how dark. Fantasies can be a lot of things that we don’t necessarily want in reality—even things that we’re completely opposed to.”
Moreover, there is a world of difference between wanting something to happen that is non-consensual and wanting to partake in sexual activity that is enthusiastically consented to by two adults. Many people enjoy, with mutual consent, trust, and safety, incorporating themes of violence or pain into their sex lives.
Esther Perel, well-known sex therapist and author, makes an apt comparison: “Just because we put on a costume doesn’t necessarily mean we want to be a witch or a sea captain.”
Is it wrong to be turned on by violence?
No, it is not automatically wrong to be turned on by violence. As we’ve discussed already, sexual preferences and fantasies can even be completely opposed to the moral frameworks that guide your life, and this doesn’t mean that those values are any less genuine. Many people are turned on by violence and other things that may be considered wrong in other contexts.
Plus, the fact that you’re asking yourself this question is reasonable evidence that you don’t have any sinister, non-consensual desire for violence. With that in mind, the better question is: why are you so worried about being turned on by violence? Why do these worries feel so pressing, and so difficult to move on from? There is one mental health condition in particular that typically causes people to worry that they are violent or that they could become violent: obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Why are you worried about being turned on by violence?
I may know what you’re thinking: What does OCD have to do with me being turned on by violence? Isn’t it all about being clean and orderly? While such themes are often a part of OCD, it’s a common misconception that the condition focuses on these themes alone. In reality, OCD is rooted in an inability to accept feelings of distress, doubt, or uncertainty—regardless of the theme.
While wondering if it’s wrong to be turned on by violence isn’t automatically a mental health concern, it can become one if it’s consuming large chunks of your time, causing you distress, or getting in the way of any part of your life. If you’re feeling unable to move on from the question “What does my sexual arousal mean?” it’s possible you’re experiencing a subtype of OCD called harm OCD.
Kilduff says harm OCD can take shape in a few different ways: “Sometimes it’s a fear that you might accidentally harm someone or something. Other times it’s a fear that you’ll snap one day and purposely do it. And sometimes, it’s about you being the target of harm. Worry and doubt about violence in a sexual context can be related to all three of these.”
Harm OCD causes one to fixate on the possibility, no matter how unreasonable, of violence. Like any theme of OCD, it begins with unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, urges, feelings or sensations, known as obsessions.
Example of what intrusive thoughts can sound like include:
- What if being turned on by violence means I’m a rapist?
- What if being turned on by violence means I want to become a victim?
- What if I can’t trust myself to be intimate with someone ever again?
- Am I actually against sexual violence if I found that fantasy arousing?
- I would never want that to actually happen to me. Is something wrong with me?
- What if that means I’m a bad person at my core?
It’s important to note that everyone has intrusive thoughts sometimes—they’re universal. However, people with OCD take them extremely seriously. As such, they bring intense, uncomfortable feelings such as anxiety, panic, guilt, shame, and embarrassment, because they don’t align with their values, beliefs, or morals.
In an attempt to relieve the intense feelings brought on by intrusive triggers, people with OCD resort to compulsions for a sense of certainty, reassurance, or safety, or to feel certain that something they’re worried about won’t happen. Compulsions can vary widely, and anything can become compulsive if it’s done with the intent of ridding oneself of the distress that their obsessions cause. Here are some examples:
- Mental review. For example, you look back on the last time you were intimate with someone and play back every second of it, looking for moments where you were violent.
- Rumination. Rumination is a word for extreme overthinking or overanalyzing. You may feel like you can just “think your way out of” your fears or worries.
- Reassurance-seeking. You might repeat to yourself, I am a very peaceful person. I would never hurt anyone. Or you might ask a friend, “Did I seem aggressive toward the person I was talking to last night?”
- Excessive research. You might spend hours researching online, looking for explanations as to why you’re turned on by violence.
- Avoidance. For example, you may avoid consuming any media that involves sex, because it reminds you of your intrusive worries.
With OCD, compulsions are never enough for lasting relief. If there is any possibility of doubt—as there always is—OCD will latch onto it. Compulsions bring only temporary relief, ultimately feeding the OCD cycle by reinforcing the idea that intrusive thoughts are dangerous and must be taken seriously.
How can I stop being so worried about being aroused by violence?
The gold-standard treatment for all themes of OCD is exposure and response-prevention (ERP) therapy. ERP works by changing your relationship with worry and anxiety, teaching your brain that you don’t have to run from or erase these feelings—and that your fears, fantasies, and intrusive thoughts don’t define who you are.
To begin, you and your therapist will discuss what triggers your worry and what compulsions you engage in to feel better. If you’re not fully aware of your triggers and compulsions, your therapist will guide you in recognizing them. If you’re worried about telling your intrusive thoughts to anyone, including a therapist, trust that ERP therapists have heard it all. They know better than anyone that those with OCD do not like or want their thoughts.
You’ll then gradually, intentionally confront your fears and worries, offering opportunities for you to learn that they’re not dangerous and don’t affect your actual values. All the while, you practice resisting the urge to engage in compulsions, ultimately breaking the obsessive-compulsive cycle. You learn to get comfortable being uncomfortable—in time, your worries actually become less distressing.
If you don’t resonate with the information on OCD but still feel like your sexual desire is out of alignment with who you are, consult with an experienced mental health professional. In any case, seeking help from a trained specialist is the best way to assure you receive the proper course of treatment.
No matter how afraid and hopeless you feel, there is hope. There are licensed professionals who know how to help you, and there are many thousands of people who have successfully recovered from OCD. You can live a life that is not run by fear, but with confidence in your values and freedom in your desires.