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In the OCDPeers community, no thought is too taboo. No compulsion is too bizarre. Unfortunately, the stigmas attached to some of the most common subtypes of OCD are so pervasive that it can feed shame and a sense of loneliness, as OCD sufferers attempt to cope with their intrusive thoughts in secret.

When people with OCD step into a safe space where they can share their struggles with others, the intrusive thoughts that once seemed so shocking, actually prove to be more common than perhaps once believed. In this article, we’ll specifically cover some of the unwanted thoughts associated with OCD Subtypes such as Sexual Orientation OCD, Relationship OCD, Pedophilia OCD and Harm OCD.

brain lock

Define “Intrusive Thoughts…”

Every human being experiences intrusive thoughts ranging from random and innocuous, to disturbingly bizarre. 

  • Imagining what would happen if something fell and crushed you as you walk past a tall building…
  • Getting a sexual mental image of a family member while you’re at a family gathering…
  • Wondering what it would look like if you dropped your newborn baby down the stairs…
  • Suddenly picturing what would happen if you jerked your steering wheel and drove off the bridge you’re driving across…

Odd mental images and ideas are just part of having a human brain. What distinguishes people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is the inability to shake these unwelcome thoughts.

In his book, The Brain That Changes Itself, author Norman Doidge calls this phenomenon “brain lock” – the inability of the caudate nucleus in the brain to “turn the page” and move beyond the obsessive thoughts and compulsions.

Intrusive thoughts, for someone with OCD, are “sticky.” They persist, often resulting in extreme anxiety and shame as the thoughts become increasingly difficult to distinguish from one’s true identity.

Sexual Orientation OCD

girl looking at reflection in mirror

It is estimated that roughly 10% of people with OCD experience this subtype. It is characterized by constant obsessions about one’s own sexual orientation. This subtype doesn’t care whether someone is actually heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transgender or asexual; the central tenet of Sexual Orientation OCD is the fear of not knowing for sure, one way or the other.

Common “sexual orientation” themes are intrusive thoughts and doubts about being straight, gay, bisexual, transgender and asexual.

Common Intrusive Thoughts

I notice that my features aren’t as masculine as most of my friends’, and as a man, does that mean I may be transgender?

I feel sensations “down there” when I’m around my boyfriend’s sister… does that mean I am a lesbian?

I am attracted to my partner, but I am okay not being very sexually active… does that mean I’m asexual?

I feel comfortable in my life after coming out, but now I can’t stop worrying I made a mistake and am really not gay… what if I’m supposed to be straight?

I keep having graphic images about having sex with my male and female coworkers. I’m a horrible wife, and I feel so guilty. Does this mean I am bisexual? How do I tell this to my spouse?

The man sitting next to me accidentally brushed up against my leg, and I felt a sensation in my groin. Does that mean I am attracted to and want to have sex with him?

I’m constantly bombarded with intrusive thoughts that I’m gay, and they are very disturbing because I know that isn’t what I prefer. What if that means I’m homophobic?

When I am having sex with my partner, I keep having visuals of the opposite sex when I climax. Does this mean I’m supposed to be straight?

How Do I Know It’s OCD?

This subtype of OCD can quickly dominate everyday life, especially in relationships, friendships and at work or school. Individuals struggling with Sexual Orientation OCD feel a deep shame and guilt about needing to
know the absolute truth on how they identify. They may feel like they are harming their significant other, or may even avoid dating in case they are ‘lying’ or leading people on.

Sexual Orientation OCD is less about someone’s actual sexual orientation, and more about the persistent sense of doubt about one’s sexuality, and the desire for certainty and confirmation. The need to “know” one way or the other fuels the very obsessions and compulsions that can plague the many people that experience this subtype.

Relationship OCD (aka ROCD)

Man resting head on woman's shoulder

Even the strongest and healthiest relationships are subject to doubts and worrisome thoughts. ROCD, however, turns those worries into a constant loop that can easily overwhelm, even when there’s no rational reason to doubt the relationship.

Common Intrusive Thoughts

Was he more satisfied with his ex? Did he feel happier when he was with her?

Our first Christmas together has to be absolutely perfect, or else she’s going to leave me.

I never noticed how big her nose was when we were first dating. What if I can’t focus on anything about her but her nose?

I didn’t want sex last night, so I must not be attracted to him anymore. There isn’t enough passion.

I love her, but we don’t have as much in common with each other as I see in other couples, so I’m worried we’re not right for each other.

I’m attracted to the new guy at the office, so I must not really love my partner the way I should.

If only he didn’t have that mole on his cheek, I would feel more sexually attracted to him.

How Do I Know It’s OCD?

Obviously, Relationship OCD can take a massive toll on a partnership – often contributing to the very conflicts and misunderstandings that ROCD sufferers fear will disrupt the relationship. 

With this OCD Subtype, it can be particularly difficult to tell the difference between relationship issues and incompatibilities, and ROCD. Relationship compatibility is subjective, and it actually is not the core issue of ROCD. The problem in Relationship OCD lies in the need to know with certainty whether the relationship is “right.” This mission to find and analyze any perceived flaws in the relationship can be debilitating for someone suffering with ROCD.

Pedophilia OCD (aka POCD)

man with face buried in hands

Sufferers of POCD are tormented by unwanted thoughts of a harmful and sexual nature about children. While actual pedophiles find these thoughts and actions pleasurable, POCD sufferers feel confused, concerned, and disgusted by the thoughts.

Due to the stigmatized nature of the thoughts, sufferers often withhold sharing them with anyone for fear they will be misunderstood… or worse, accused of wanting the thoughts and desiring children. The torment of staying silent often becomes more tolerable than the risk of being misunderstood and labeled as a pedophile; thus, individuals may live for years in absolute torture before seeking help. Even upon seeking help, POCD sufferers may fear the repercussions of disclosing the unwanted thoughts – including being reported to child protective services, having the cops called on them, or losing their children. This is why it is extremely
important to work with a therapist who specializes in OCD and understands the nature of
intrusive thoughts and how to appropriately treat it.

It’s extremely difficult to discuss such taboo thoughts, even with a therapist, so we are very grateful for those who are courageous enough to share their POCD experiences.

Common Intrusive Thoughts

I changed my baby’s diaper yesterday, and when I wiped his penis, I can’t remember if I lingered on it or not. Did I molest him on accident? Or what if I did it intentionally?

I’m too scared to go to my neighborhood pool, because I may have sexual thoughts about the kids in their bathing suits.

I want help, but I’m afraid to tell even my therapist about my disgusting thoughts. What if they don’t believe me and call the cops?

I’m terrified that I’m a pedophile and just don’t know it yet, so there’s no way I can babysit my niece. What if I get aroused by her?

If people knew what goes through my head, they’d want me dead or in jail.

How Do I Know It’s OCD?

POCD sufferers have an inflated, incorrect fear that they cannot trust themselves, and they are especially prone to compulsions as an attempt to mitigate the unwanted and disturbing thoughts, or to avoid situations with children altogether. The nature of these thoughts make it imperative for sufferers to prove to themselves that they wouldn’t act on their thoughts.

The mental and emotional anguish of this particular OCD subtype can make sufferers feel disgusting and monstrous over the thought of harming a little child. They can also be preoccupied with determining whether they are a “good” or “bad” person.

Harm OCD

woman sitting in driver's seat of car with hands covering face

Most people admit to having some unwanted thoughts of a violent nature. For Harm OCD sufferers, however, thoughts of harming themselves or others are so frequent and graphic that they can easily become debilitating. The nature of Harm OCD thoughts is in direct contrast to sufferers’ values and beliefs, often causing a constant state of fear of acting on the intrusive thoughts that characterize Harm OCD.

Common Intrusive Thoughts

I can hardly sleep for fear that I’m going to strangle my husband to death in my sleep.

I’m terrified that I’ll suddenly snap and violently attack my disabled grandparent.

That bump I felt while driving was actually a person I hit and killed, and the police are going to track me down soon.

I’ve considered, in great detail, all the ways I’d kill myself. 

When I see my wife using a chopping knife, all I can picture is me snapping and stabbing her repeatedly.

How Do I Know It’s OCD?

The crux of Harm OCD is believing that you must be in absolute control at all times to ensure you won’t commit a violent act. Harm obsessions steal otherwise happy moments by hijacking sufferers’ brains with unwanted thoughts of a violent and disturbing nature. Depending on how and when it manifests, Harm OCD can make the sufferer feel like they’ve gone insane. 


Looking for a safe space to discuss your thoughts with peers who understand?

To share your experience without guilt, shame or fear, browse our safe and confidential OCDPeers groups here.

We’d love to hear your story!

The OCD community needs brave voices who are willing to share their experience. If you’re interested in sharing your OCD story, contact us here.