Living with Pedophilia OCD
What’s going on?
Pedophilia OCD, or POCD, is a subset of OCD in which a sufferer has unwanted harmful or sexual thoughts about children. This subtype often results in panic, anguish, shame and depression. People living with POCD have no desire to harm a child, yet they’re tormented by thoughts of doing so.
The difference between someone living with POCD and an actual pedophile couldn’t be greater. A pedophile takes pleasure in situations in which they have an opportunity to find sexual gratification around children. Someone living with POCD will do the exact opposite. Sufferers of POCD are so horrified by their thoughts that they will avoid children at all costs. The nature of this subtype is so taboo that it often leads to years of suffering in silence.
What is Pedophilia OCD (POCD)?
Common Pedophilia OCD obsessions:
- Fear of having sexual thoughts about a child or young adult.
- Fear of getting aroused when you’re around a child or young adult.
- Fear that you sexually assaulted a child or young adult in the past.
Common Pedophilia OCD compulsions:
- Avoidance: Staying away from social situations where there might be children.
- Fear: You’re afraid you might act on your thoughts, and children around you may be at risk.
- Character indictment: You think you’re a bad, twisted person for having sexual thoughts or thinking you’re attracted to children.
- Research: Becoming preoccupied with the morality or legality of finding a person younger than 18 attractive or sexual.
Common misconceptions about Pedophilia OCD:
- OCD only comes in one, general type. Subsets like POCD don’t exist.
- Thinking that any person under the age of 18 is even remotely attractive is a sign of pedophilia.
- It’s not OK to watch shows or look at photos that portray young adults in a provocative way.
How Do I Know it’s OCD?
Everyone gets intrusive thoughts, but having them doesn’t mean you have OCD. For people who do have OCD, these thoughts can be debilitating, causing extreme anxiety and discomfort. No matter how hard you try to get rid of them, they won’t go away.
When you have POCD, you become preoccupied with proving to yourself that you don’t find children attractive. Your thoughts make you feel like a monster and an outsider. You are horrified by the idea that you may hurt a child, and are obsessed with determining if you are truly “good” or “bad.” Similar to HOCD and ROCD, your brain gives off a distressing response and controls your feelings of guilt and innocence.
Everyday Examples of POCD:
- Feeling distraught over going to the beach. You know that you’ll see children and young adults in swimsuits, and you’re afraid this will cause unwanted thoughts or, even worse, arousal. Instead of going to the beach, you avoid it at all costs.
- Experiencing distress over spending time alone in a room with a small child. Your sister wants you to babysit your nephew, but you’re terrified you’ll act out your unwanted thoughts. Instead of accepting her request, you say “no” and research the legal repercussions of having these associations instead.
- You’re at a dinner with family and are sitting across from your young niece. Suddenly, your brain starts to make terrible, harmful associations so you excuse yourself from the table.
How can my family help with my POCD?
Many sufferers feel extreme shame when disclosing their POCD thoughts to loved ones. Family members and friends must remember to be open minded and supportive. However, it’s important to not provide reassurance. Doing so can make things worse.
Saying things like “You wouldn’t hurt a child.” or “I’ve known you my whole life, you’d never do anything like that.” may provide momentary relief, but can strengthen intrusive thoughts long term. Getting used to this can take time. The support often comes from bringing up specific thoughts or associations, and lightheartedly joking about them. It may sound silly, but it can help the sufferer while they go through treatment.
Is Recovery Possible for Me?
Yes! The ideal treatment for someone with Pedophilia OCD is Exposure Response Prevention Therapy (ERP). ERP is when you voluntarily expose yourself to the source of your fear over and over and over again, without acting out any compulsion to neutralize or stop the fear. By repeatedly facing something you’re afraid of, you force your brain to recognize how irrational it is.
Examples of ERP treatment:
- You may be asked to purposely notice children on the street or visit a place where children often spend time, like the park.
- As time goes on, you may be asked to watch TV shows featuring children or young adults.
- In addition, you may be asked to search for pictures of children online.
There are other treatment options as well. Mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, also known as CBT, teaches people to identify, understand and change negative thinking patterns and behaviors. Patients are taught problem-solving skills during therapy lessons and then instructed to practice them on their own time in order to build positive habits.
Can medication help?
Medication can help alongside ERP, but it shouldn’t replace it. Doctors should always be consulted before considering medicinal options.
The main family of medicines used to treat OCD are known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs. SSRIs enhance your natural serotonin activity and are used to treat major depressive disorders and anxiety conditions. Examples include Lexapro, Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft.
What is the goal of therapy?
Some people with Pedophilia OCD recover completely through ERP. But for many, their obsessions never fully go away. Progress in POCD treatment often comes in the form of distancing your character from you intrusive thoughts. You realize that they do not define you, and even though they may still pop up, you know that you are not a risk to others. OCD recovery has more to do with managing the condition, than it does with eliminating it. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t lead a healthy, happy life. By prioritizing treatment and positive lifestyle habits, sufferers often gain confidence and freedom. Even if some anxiety is still present by the end of therapy, you’ll no longer feel debilitated by the condition.
If you suffer from OCD, you have a severe anxiety disorder. But it can be treated. Start by getting educated and making healthy living choices. Then find a clinical psychologist in your area who specializes in OCD and Exposure Response Prevention (ERP).