Sexual orientation OCD, sometimes referred to as homosexual OCD (HOCD), involves preoccupation with repetitive, intrusive thoughts and/or urges involving an individual’s sexual orientation. It is normal to notice the attractive features of the same and opposite sex, people without OCD can accept that they cannot be completely certain about their sexual orientation. As such, they can move past these thoughts, accepting the uncertainty that comes with them. People who are gay embrace the thoughts and think about them voluntarily.
Sexual orientation OCD develops when an individual becomes consumed with obsessing over these thoughts and/or urges, begins to feel anxiety, distress, doubt, confusion, or another difficult emotion because of these obsessions, and may develop some compulsive behaviours (physical or mental) to find short-term relief from these difficult emotions. Unfortunately, the obsessive doubts (e.g., “Why am I having this thought”, or “What does this thought mean?”) cannot be argued or reasoned with and it is exhausting and endless to attempt to do so.
What are the OCD symptoms?
Obsessions: The obsessions in sexual orientation OCD revolve around an individual’s sexual orientation. This can involve worry that their sexual orientation may change, they may be perceived as having a certain sexual orientation, they may have a different sexual orientation to the one they thought, or they may be in denial of their actual sexual orientation. Some examples of the intrusive thoughts associated with sexual orientation OCD include: “I couldn’t help but admire the muscles on that man. Does that mean I’m gay?”, “I felt aroused when I noticed how attractive that girl was. What if I’m gay and I don’t know?”, and “What if I’m actually gay and I’ve been lying to myself, my partner, and my family all my life?”. The thoughts can take an infinite number of forms and are only limited by the brains capacity to imagine.
Compulsions: To manage the anxiety and distress associated with the uncertainty of their sexual orientation, people with OCD seek to reduce the amount of anxiety and distress caused by these thoughts by behaving in repetitive ways that provide short-term relief. They may find themselves attempting to avoid the difficult emotions and/or gain certainty by seeking reassurance, checking their physical sensations in their groin, mentally reviewing past experiences, praying, dating compulsively, and/or avoiding certain places or people.
Why does it occur?
Sexual orientation OCD can occur when the thoughts clash with an individual’s morals or values (e.g., ensuring the happiness of their family). This clash can cause anxiety and distress, and the individual may attempt to suppress the thoughts, causing a rebound effect where the thoughts come back more often and more intensely. Individuals with sexual orientation OCD may try to find relief from the anxiety and distress by performing certain compulsions. They may find themselves stuck in a cycle of obsessing, feeling anxious or distressed, and engaging in a compulsion to relieve the anxiety or distress for the short period until the obsession returns.