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Sexual OCD

How Does Sexual OCD Present?

People with Sexual OCD experience intrusive sexual thoughts.


The intrusive thoughts people may have can be about family members, babies/children, acquaintances, inanimate objects, pets, or religious figures (e.g., the Pope). In addition, they may have intrusive thoughts about accidentally or intentionally doing something sexually inappropriate (e.g., molesting someone; shouting “penis” in public). They may also worry about losing control and acting out sexually.

People with Sexual OCD may also worry about having done something sexually inappropriate in the past and being unable to remember it. The repetitive worrying can create false memories, causing people to believe an inappropriate situation occurred when it did not. 


Scenario: Alfredo started experiencing intrusive thoughts that he previously said, “I want to have sex with you,” to his teacher. He knows he has never done that, but the more he ruminates about the thought, the more he doubts his memory and feels like he could have done it.

Sexual OCD can also manifest as someone excessively doubting their sexual orientation. This form of OCD is also called Sexual Orientation OCD and can happen to people of any sexual orientation. 


Scenario 1: Amara has always considered herself straight and has only been attracted to boys. However, one day the thought, “You really like spending time with your best friend Katie. What if you’re actually gay?” popped up, and she has been doubting her sexual orientation since. The doubts make her very anxious and do not go away no matter how much she tries to convince herself that she is straight.

Scenario 2: Eduardo is a happily married gay man. One day, he saw an attractive woman and thought, “What if I’m secretly straight and never realized it?” Since then, he has been anxiously questioning his sexuality and doubting all his previous relationships with men. He worries that one day he will uncover his “true” sexuality and need to leave his husband even though he has no desire to be with women.

People with Sexual OCD often feel shame or guilt due to the nature of their intrusive thoughts. However, OCD is OCD - Sexual OCD is no different! Learning how to embrace and accept whatever sexual intrusive thoughts the mind produces is part of the recovery process. 

Sexual OCD Compulsions

Compulsions are anything that people with OCD do to relieve the anxiety and distress brought on by their intrusive thoughts (i.e., obsessions, worries). The variations of compulsions are endless and vary from person to person, which makes it impossible to include examples of all possible compulsions in this guide. Below is a selection of examples illustrating a range of ways Sexual OCD compulsions present.

Examples of Sexual OCD Compulsions:

Avoiding people of the same or opposite sex due to worries that you might “turn” a specific sexual orientation.


Avoiding sexual activity because it triggers sexual intrusive thoughts.


Avoiding being near children due to intrusive thoughts about molesting children.


Avoiding things related to the LGBTQ+ community.

(e.g., rainbows images, pride flags, movies with LGBTQ+ characters)


Purposely bringing up sexual intrusive thoughts to check your feelings.

(e.g., imagining kissing your mom to make sure you feel disgusted and are not aroused by it)


Analyzing your sexual intrusive thoughts to “figure them out”.


Mentally reviewing past events to ensure you did not do anything sexually inappropriate.


Researching topics related to your sexual intrusive thoughts for answers, and to get rid of doubt.


Needing to do certain rituals to counteract sexual intrusive thoughts.

(e.g., tapping an object seven times when you experience an intrusive thought; needing to think a “positive” thought when you have an intrusive thought)


Repeatedly reassuring yourself or getting reassurance from others that your sexual intrusive thoughts are not true.

Help for Sexual OCD

Living with Sexual OCD can cause immense stress, guilt, and shame. The good news is that OCD is treatable with the right type of help. The gold-standard treatment for OCD is a type of  behavioral intervention called exposure therapy. In addition to exposures, there are also other highly effective acceptance-based interventions that complement exposure therapy for OCD. 

We hope that this guide has helped you to better understand Sexual OCD.

You do not need to live a life overwhelmed and controlled by OCD. Equipping yourself with practical information for treating OCD and learning how to respond to OCD in an effective way can be life changing. Oftentimes, people unknowingly engage in actions that feed the OCD cycle

If you would like to learn more in-depth information about OCD treatment and recovery, you are welcome to read our Educational Guides on exposure therapy and other acceptance-based interventions for OCD:

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