Most people with OCD report that it does have an impact to their sex life. For some, the impact is minimal, while others experience significant concerns…especially when their intrusive thoughts involve sexual themes. If you are an adult, chances are you value your sex life and just like your job, family, and other things you value, it is an important piece of your existence. Some common sex-related complaints for those with OCD may include:
Avoiding sex entirely under the assumption that you are too anxious to enjoy it.
Using sex as a compulsion to “prove” your sexual orientation.
Having sex but just “going through the motions” for the sake of your partner.
Attempting to be fully engaged but consumed by intrusive thoughts throughout.
Requesting your partner provide multiple accommodations so you can avoid, find certainty, or otherwise.
So what can you do to get back to the sex you and your partner enjoy? There is no simple or easy answer but, through the principles taught in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), you can learn to realign with what’s important in that moment….the sex and your partner!
Back to the Now: OCD can easily give you 100+ intrusive thoughts during sex. While you don’t have a “choice” whether those thoughts pop up, you do have a choice whether you follow that thought and allow it to consume your experience. Instead, thank your mind for that thought and redirect your focus to the NOW. For some, simple reminders of “be present” or “be here now” may work. For others, that might not be enough. If it’s not then…..
Be an Observer to the Experience: Mindfulness is a component of ACT and can be a valuable practice during sex. When OCD attacks, choose to redirect your focus to what is happen in THAT moment. “I am doing XXX”, “she is touching XXX”, my XX feels XX”….you get the point. Not only are your practicing this technique but, it can also increase arousal.
Just Do It: OCD can easily convince you that your anxiety is “too high” to enjoy sex or that you will be “too distracted”. You won’t know if any of this is true for THAT moment unless you engage. Can sex be difficult to enjoy if you are filled with anxiety? OF COURSE!!! But a life without sex for you and your partner likely has more significant long term effects. Scheduling sex, while it may sound boring, can help to get your sex life back on track and remove the “I have to wait until I FEEL like it” belief. Through this, you are also engaging in a behavioral commitment and value-oriented action. Scheduling sex can create great anticipation and also make sure that this aspect of your relationship actually happens.
Communication: Chances are your partner knows about OCD and it’s impact on you. If not, this can be an important and beneficial conversation. Worried that your partner will notice your distraction and assume you are simply not attracted to them? This is why communication is so important.
Imaginal Exposure: Yes, I am suggesting you have sexual fantasies…but probably not the kind you are thinking about. If you struggle with the idea that OCD will get in the way of an enjoyable sexual experience and typically avoid sex…use that to create a imaginal exposure. I prefer to use exposure as a way to open up our willingness to have said experience as oppose to decreasing or removing anxiety. So, sit back, close your eyes, and imagine (if you can) all of your worst case scenarios in sex coming to a reality. Not climaxing, having the same intrusive thought over and over again, your partner accusing you of being distracted or not attracted to them, and so on. During this mind-based experience, open yourself up to any and all thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgement. Think of “willingness” as a muscle you can strengthen. The more willing you are to experience a wide range of internal experiences during sex, the less likely they will pull you away from the moment.
Have experience with OCD and an impact to your sex life? Feel free to comment and share what you’ve found helpful. Here’s to “sexy time” (as my kids call it)!!!