5 Ways OCD Can Make an Appearance During Sex
For the past few hours, I have done anything and everything I could think of to avoiding writing this blog post. I’ve cleaned my apartment, organized my desk and much more. Why? I want to write about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and sex, but I also feel shame. Which brings me to my first way OCD can show up to the party:
1. Shame and fear of social judgment
My partner and I are two consenting adults. There is nothing inherently “wrong” going on here. Yet, I fear writing about this because sex is taboo. And though these feelings are not limited to anxious individuals, when you have OCD, shame can get taken to another level.
What if my mom reads this? What if my boss reads this? What if literally anyone I know reads this? What if people I don’t know read this? Gah, people are reading this. I feel ashamed of existing as a sexual being, though I’m working on this shame. So I avoided, but here we are. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s continue with other ways OCD can show up during sex.
2. Fear of getting pregnant
This was one of my dominant OCD fears in high school, even though I was years away from having sex. But touching a boy? Kissing a boy? Heck, it got to the point that sitting next to a boy was anxiety-inducing. I would trace where possible sperm could be and how it could find a way into my vagina. It could be on a couch cushion, travel through clothes, and into my vagina to make me pregnant.
Of course, this was also before I knew I had OCD, so before I was in treatment. And thus, the fear grew out of control. I was thinking about it almost every waking moment. It got so consuming that my anxiety began to mimic symptoms of pregnancy, such as nausea and missed periods. That did not help, to say the least.
Years later though, this fear has faded. We use hormonal birth control and condoms, so the risk of pregnancy is very low (not that OCD cares about logic). Even though I didn’t treat this fear directly though because it wasn’t a priority during the years of my intensive treatment, while treating other OCD themes, this one got quieter too. I just have to be diligent, on the occasions when I do get intrusive thoughts about an accidental pregnancy.
I cannot believe I’m labeling this section fluids, but here we are. We are writing without shame, or trying to write despite feelings of shame, I should say. Sex involves fluids. Whether that’s semen or sweat or whatever, it’s an intimate act. And see fear above, fluids can lead to pregnancy. But there can also be more general discomfort with them. I’ve found baby steps and gradual exposures to be helpful. But also be assertive about where you do and do not want fluids, though this can be hard to control exactly. It’s OK to push yourself towards facing OCD, and it’s also OK to set a boundary based on what you want and need. OK, moving on.
4. Sensory issues
This is probably the biggest way OCD and anxiety show up for me currently during sex. For example, having my hair down? Probably super sexy. But also kind of uncomfortable because now it’s getting sweaty and tangled and messed up and I’m thinking more about my hair than focusing on my partner.
Also, overstimulation is a very real phenomenon. As pleasurable as sex is, I’ve also experienced that a few minutes after sex, I can find myself overstimulated. My heart rate is up, and I’ve just had this intimate, physical experience. On a handful of occasions, this has led to panic attacks. Again, the sex was consensual and enjoyable; my body just got overwhelmed. And in those moments, my partner lovingly holds me, we focus on my breathing, and we get through it.
5. Taboo intrusive thoughts
Finally, I feel it would be a dishonor to the OCD community to not at least mention this category of intrusive thoughts, and how they can definitely come up during sex. But also, I’m not ready to talk about mine publicly and have it published forever, at least not yet. There’s a fear of losing jobs or opportunities, or being judged as a bad person by people who don’t understand OCD.
That’s not true. People with OCD are not bad people. But sometimes our thoughts, which are out of control, can be misleading. All this to say, if you have OCD and you know, you know. You are not a bad person. You are not alone.
Finally, this is not an exhaustive list of all the ways OCD can show up during sex. This is just based on my experience. If you’re comfortable, I’d love to hear your experiences too.
Getty image by Maria Dorota