Content Advisory: This guest blog post contains frank language about sex.
This is not something I’ve admitted publicly or even to more than a handful of close friends. I have had OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) since I can remember. It started as constant handwashing (whenever I touched someone) and obsessively checking that my door was locked. It took me well into my 20’s to realize I hadn’t outgrown my OCD when I hit puberty. It had just become more hidden as it attempted to defeat my broader understanding of the world and ability to self-reflect. It morphed into obsessive thoughts and compulsive sexual behavior. In high school, to my chagrin, I was awarded ‘biggest flirt’ at our prom, another moment that, in hindsight, was more a reflection of a compulsion than neurotypical teen behavior.
In my early 20’s I dated someone I deeply cared about. OCD crept back in and rendered me unable to stop ruminating on hyper-jealous thoughts. Which of my friends would you date if it wasn’t me? How attractive are they, and in what order?—completely outrageous, infuriating obsessions that my partner hated. At the time, neither of us realized it was my OCD that had me constantly zeroing in on the most insecure and pointless corners of my psyche. The relationship ended mainly due to my undiagnosed OCD, and when she ended it, I really didn’t blame her. I thought, “fair enough, I’m a pain in the ass.”
To deal with the breakup, I began sleeping with a lot of people, mostly one-night stands. It completely took over my weekends and holidays. I’d only plan to go out if I knew I’d be able to meet people, and I’d only vacation in places where I knew there was a high likelihood of that happening. I was utterly addicted to the high of new sexual partners.
I often discounted the value of sex if it was a third or fourth encounter and would be agitated on weekends when I didn’t have sex or meet someone I could have sex with later. The obsessive thoughts also went as far as seeing beautiful people on social media (like Instagram) and fixating on them, looking through all their photos, and trying to find ways to contrive meetings through common friends. It became clear that I was addicted to the thrill of new sex and began to wonder if this kind of obsession with the next encounter was not unlike my earlier obsessive thoughts around handwashing.
After a few years of anxiety around not having sex, I put together the link between my OCD and sex addiction and sought a cognitive behavioral therapist to get a formal diagnosis. It was clear to her that it was indeed OCD, and as she began listing common OCD patterns, I recognized them all. Some of those that resonated most were:
- Associating actions of other people as related to me. Her example was imagine walking into a cafe, and a group of people immediately begin to laugh. Some people with OCD will associate that with themselves. “Are they laughing at what I’m wearing?” “Do I have toilet paper on my shoe?”
- Associating with my thoughts. For example, I could have an intrusive thought like: “I want to kick that yappy dog” or “I want to punch that person.” I would internalize those negative thoughts and characterize myself as a bad person for thinking them. Further, then I’d believe I was a bad person for having the thoughts in the first place.
- Another pattern she mentioned was responsibility OCD, which centers around endlessly worrying about accidentally hurting people or taking responsibility for things that aren’t your fault. For me, it manifested as taking responsibility for other people’s welfare when it caused a strain on my own.
- The final pattern was constant rumination. Whenever something upsetting happened (like a recent argument with a friend), I would constantly go over and over the ‘argument’ in an attempt to solve it. I’d get trapped in a loop, revising and re-revising to find an answer to a question that didn’t exist.
It’s important to note that all or none of these patterns can be present for people with OCD. It can manifest itself differently for different people.
Once I learned all this was normal for someone with OCD, it changed how I approached things. Some useful tactics for dealing with moments when I would obsessively be thinking of a new partner (who I hadn’t slept with) or was just obsessing about sex in general were the following:
- The apple trick, imaging an apple on a picnic blanket and slowly walking backward away from the apple until it gets smaller and smaller. The idea is to apply this to obsessive thoughts, step slowly away from them
- I’d write “resist” on my hand every day, and whenever I’d notice I was obsessing, I would look at the word resist and attempt to resist the spiral. I also have a book of affirmations, such as “my thoughts don’t define me” and “I am successful,” that I will repeat in my head until the obsessive thoughts dissipate. Without oxygen, they cannot wreak havoc.
- Meditation, any app or youtube video for ten minutes would help with rumination. Even just the Wim Hof breathing method is a powerful tool to overcome momentary obsessive bouts.
- Running has really helped me to get out of my head and body. Whenever overcome with a compulsion to act (text a sex partner or masturbate), a super quick run around the block makes a difference.
When it came to dating, I would be upfront about my OCD and how it manifested as a sex addiction. Some people were okay with this, while others weren’t, but at least they could be comfortable with it before things got serious. A pattern of thinking that helps me with the sex addiction is recognition. When I’m in a situation where sex could happen, I try and categorize how I feel. Is this just sex to feed the addiction? If not, what do you like about this person? If it’s clear there’s a connection, and it’s not just about a one-off, then the sex is not problematic. If it’s just to ‘scratch an itch’ or I can’t find anything about this person interesting aside from wanting sex, then it’s a no-go.
I’m still not perfect at applying this and do slip. OCD doesn’t go away. I just learn to manage it, and sometimes it will still manage me. However, the aim is to make incremental changes. Whenever I recognize a moment as obsessive or compulsive and use the above toolkit, it’s a win.
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About the Author: Alex started Clara (clarafinds.com), a site to compare fintech apps to help people and businesses understand all the new money-saving tools that are revolutionizing finance. They love to write, travel, and connect with new people.
The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.
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