The Mighty Logo

How Having Contamination OCD Has Affected My Sex Life

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor’s note: If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help visit International OCD Foundation’s website.

Being open about having obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has changed many things in my life, including my willingness to write in a public forum about sex. But let’s face it — a mental illness doesn’t exist in a bubble. Instead, it’s more like a root system that spreads out and tries to infiltrate and touch every part of your life it can — including your sex life.

Having contamination OCD, in particular, has really thrown my sex life for a loop. For one, being on medication for OCD has its own side effects. It is relatively well known that a decreased libido is one of the more common downfalls of taking antidepressants. So off the bat, somewhat essential treatment for my OCD messes with my husband and me between the sheets.

But frankly, I have never been the more forward or excited partner in our marriage relationship when it comes to sex. So currently, no, the medication doesn’t help, but it is the actual fears the OCD feeds me that really affect my willingness and ability to have an intimate relationship with my husband.

For one, location matters. I do not want to have sex on the couch or frankly, anywhere that cannot be contained or cleaned. Maybe I would consent to use a towel, but then special precautions might need to be taken when washing that towel. Would I want to wash it with other towels? And where was that towel previously used? I wouldn’t want to put a bath towel that touched our naked bodies on the couch where people sit with their “outside” clothes.

As a result, sex is usually relegated to the bed, but not only that — it is usually relegated to my husband’s side of the bed and on top of his flat sheet. I don’t want to go between the sheets in case bodily “fluids” or grime from our private areas gets left on the sheets he would then sleep between. I wouldn’t want his pajamas to get contaminated since he tends to wear them multiple times and sit on the couch while wearing them.

When it comes to the act of sex itself, I am awkward and paranoid about what is being touched by whom and where our hands go afterward. I don’t want my hair or arms to be touched once, ahem, other areas have been contacted, unless I plan to take a shower directly afterward.

I also worry about underwear once it is removed. Where is it going to be placed? I don’t want to touch it with my bare feet or other body parts while on the bed. I also don’t want it placed on top of the duvet cover or directly on the floor. Usually, I place some tissue down and put our underwear carefully on top of them.

With all of the contamination obsessions and the resulting compulsions and avoidance, sex is no longer fun. It is not pleasurable. It is stressful and anxiety-inducing. It becomes a carefully orchestrated act that brings regret and uncertainty.

And that’s not just for me, the one living with OCD. My husband notices when I am not fully committed or enjoying sex. He, of course, notices when I am thinking about, taking part in, or asking him to engage in my compulsions, including underwear placement, where we have sex or where he is “allowed” to place his hands and when, among other things. Not so suddenly, sex becomes a torturous rather than enjoyable experience for both of us.

This, naturally, provides some obstacles. For one, it makes it difficult for us to actually have sex at all or to climax once we are “trying.” Sometimes we have to simply give up, which you’d think would be a relief for my OCD but instead triggers my negative self-belief that I am not good enough or that I must be perfect. If I can’t satisfy my husband, I think, what good am I? I end up angry and feeling like a failure.

This also causes stress because I know my husband will want to have sex again soon to make up for this so-called (by me) “wasted” experience. Since having sex causes such great distress and requires me to struggle and work up to it emotionally, I wait to drag out the time between “sessions” as long as possible.

All of this naturally leads to perhaps the saddest side effect of OCD on our sex life: the fact that sex is no longer spontaneous. Isn’t one of the beautiful parts of physical intimacy the fact that it arises from passion and love? While love is hopefully constant in a committed relationship, the passion and excitement that lead to sex can ebb and flow. The spontaneity of sex is part of what makes it so fulfilling and worthwhile; coming together when you didn’t know you were going to do so minutes or even moments before brings an added sense of satisfaction to the act.

But, with my OCD, that emotionally charged piece of sexual intimacy is taken away. No longer is sex a spontaneous rush. It becomes a calculated piece of the puzzle that is a maintained relationship.

When sex stops being pleasurable, I believe an important part of the relationship is taken away and it is difficult to regain because it involves not just me and my OCD but my husband’s self-esteem and connection to me as well. Luckily, I have a very patient husband who wants and is willing to work through my OCD struggles with me. And if it involves having more sex as exposures, I’m sure he’ll be all for it.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via nd3000

Originally published: August 17, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home