The idea of dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is daunting enough for many people. But when OCD takes on a sexual theme, such as obsessions about sexuality or sexual orientation, it can feel even more challenging to talk about. This particular form of OCD is known as Sexual Orientation OCD, and it can cause intense distress.
What does Sexual Orientation OCD look like?
Sexual Orientation OCD is a type of OCD that involves intrusive, unwanted thoughts related to one’s sexual attraction or identity. For example, someone experiencing this type of OCD may become fixated on their "true" sexual orientation, that they may be attracted to animals or relatives, or that they may actually be another gender. These thoughts, often referred to as obsessions, can be incredibly distressing, and individuals may try to perform certain behaviors to alleviate their anxiety. These behaviors (called compulsions) can include things like excessive research on sexual orientation, avoiding situations that might trigger intrusive thoughts, or trying to “prove” to oneself that they’re attracted to a certain population.
So what helps?
Often, people with Sexual Orientation OCD will start to avoid situations that trigger their obsessional thoughts. For example, they might avoid spending time with people of the same sex, or they might never be alone around certain family members or pets. While this avoidance can be a temporary solution to the anxiety they feel, in the long run, it only reinforces the idea that they cannot tolerate uncertainty and thus keeps them from fully participating in life. Exposure and response prevention(ERP) can help break this cycle by exposing the patient to the feared situation and proving, through experience, that they can handle the anxiety and uncertainty that comes with it.
You can gain relief.
Sexual Orientation OCD can be incredibly distressing and interfere with one’s quality of life. However, ERP can offer significant relief to those experiencing it. By exposing oneself to the thing they fear, without responding with compulsions (which do not actually keep people “safe” or keep “bad” things from happening), individuals can learn to tolerate and be less affected by the anxiety that comes with intrusive thoughts. If you or a loved one is struggling with sexual orientation OCD, know that there is hope, and ERP is a proven and effective way to gain freedom.