How Does OCD Affect Intimacy?
There is nothing worse than wanting to be intimate with a partner and being unable to…get there. An inability to be “close” to your sweetheart not only impacts the “affected” partner (i.e., low self-esteem and self-confidence, anxiety, emotional and/or physical “detachment” from his or her partner, a sexual dysfunction, like performance anxiety, erectile dysfunction (ED), impotence, premature ejaculation, etc.), but also the other partner (i.e., low self-esteem and self-confidence, feelings of hopelessness and betrayal, a feeling that he or she is unloved, unwanted, and undesirable, etc.).
So, as you can see a lack of intimacy can wreak havoc on your health, well-being, and life, overall. Think about it this way – how can you develop a healthy relationship without emotional and/or physical intimacy? You cannot, which is why many early romantic relationships fail and why many potential mates quickly become “friend zoned.” Thus, intimacy is a crucial element of any healthy romantic relationship. More specifically, nothing can develop and thrive in an unhealthy environment – this includes relationships.
OCD sufferers are prone to intimacy issues – not just with partners but with nearly everyone.
Non-stop, unwanted, intrusive, repetitive loops of feeling “dirty,” “unworthy,” “crazy,” “not good enough,” “defective,” “immoral,” and/or “bad” can lead to a constant need for reassurance (i.e., “You are good enough!” “You are a great friend!” “You are awesome!” “You are sexy!” “I only love and want you!”).
Or, avoidance from others (i.e., breaking dates, making excuses as to why you cannot hang out with friends or co-workers after work or on the weekends, choosing to spend your free time with friends and family – instead of your partner, starting arguments with your partners, friends, or family members, so they will leave you alone, emotionally-detaching from your partner, friends, and/or family, “I have a headache and need time alone!” “I do not feel like having sex!” Or, “I do not want to talk about it!”).
OCD-related intimacy issues can make it hard to develop long-term, meaningful relationships – not just with your partner, but also with family members, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, peers, children, etc. The good news is that OCD-intimacy issues can be remedied or managed. You do not have to live a solitary life because of your OCD, no, you can have a healthy romantic relationship, and fulfilling life surrounded by friends, loved ones, and others.
With the right tools and resources, you can finally experience warm, loving, and intimate relationships with the people that you love! If you are experiencing OCD-related intimacy issues with your partner, friends, and/or loved ones. The goal of this article is to help you understand why you are experiencing OCD-related intimacy issues, and how you can start “connected” with the people in your life!
What Are Considered Intimacy Issues?
A person who has a hard time “connecting with” or “being close to one or more people –emotionally and/or physically. Although many people associate intimacy with romance, dating situations, marriage, sex, and romantic relationships, intimacy involves more than these characteristics. Yes, physical intimacy can involve sex and sexual activities – it does not have to.
Physical intimacy can also involve holding hands, a sweet kiss on the cheek or forehead, hugging, rubbing one’s back, feet, cuddling, stroking one’s hair, playing “footsie” under the table, running one’s fingers along your partner’s skin, a relaxing body massage, lots of tickles, eye-glazing, laying in someone’s lap, resting one’s head on someone’s shoulder, a playful squeeze or pat on the bottom (couples), etc.
Emotional intimacy can involve sharing your day with your partner, friend, and/or loved one, allowing someone to see you at your best and worst – and everything in-between, being open, honest, and vulnerable with others, showing your love, respect, admiration for someone, feeling “safe enough” to share your concerns, worries, fears, and doubts with someone you trust – or want to trust, letting a friend, loved one, or partner into your thought processes and being able to show exhibit and share your true feelings, naturally feeling an urges to share happy times with someone, etc.
The ultimate goal of emotional intimacy is to help you feel “connected to” someone on a deeper level – than just physical intimacy and sex. Keep in mind that emotional intimacy can be a catalyst for passion, and passion can lead to amazing physical intimacy.
What is OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety condition that causes involuntary, unwanted, continuous, upsetting or annoying, and/or repetitive thoughts, impulses, fears, doubts, mental images, beliefs, negative emotions (obsessions), and/or a persistent urge to perform certain rituals or routines (compulsions).
It is important to understand that you cannot just “wish away” OCD symptoms (obsessions and compulsions). In most cases, OCD help or treatment is needed to combat this condition. Some OCD sufferers only experience obsessions, while others may only experience compulsions. However, most OCD sufferers experience both obsessions and compulsions.
OCD can be a lonely condition that affects many areas of your life, especially your self-esteem and self-confidence, and relationships (all relationships, not just romantic ones). Many OCD sufferers have a habit of “emotionally detaching” from others because they have a hard time finding common ground or “connecting with” others on a deeper level. This is not done on purpose, rather it is a product of their obsessions and/or compulsions.
The good news is there are plenty of OCD treatments available if you are suffering from this condition. There are conventional and non-traditional OCD treatments that can help you better manage your OCD symptoms, but also help you achieve emotional and physical intimacy with your partner, friends, and other loved ones.
Can OCD Cause Relationship Issues?
Yes, it can.
OCD symptoms have a habit of taking over one’s life – so much so they are unable to think about or do anything else – not even friends, loved ones, or romantic partners. This can cause serious intimacy issues. When OCD sufferers are unable to “connect with” or grow closer to others, they often self-isolate – ruling out intimacy with others altogether.
For individuals, being unable to “relate to,” understand, and “click with” others trigger shame, guilt, despair, stress, and/or anxiety, which can and often does worsen OCD symptoms. Stress and anxiety are the lead instigators when it comes to intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. Although trauma can also prevent OCD sufferers from trusting and developing “intimate emotional and/or physical relationships” with others.
So, yes, OCD can cause relationship issues, and more specifically, intimacy issues. In other words, avoiding being intimate with others can make it challenging to develop and maintain close relationships. Emotional and physical intimacy play an important role in any relationship. Because OCD sufferers have a hard time trusting people, especially their partners, which causes intimacy to suffer.
These individuals worry that people (i.e., loved ones, partners, and friends) will abandon, mock, criticize, or avoid them if they find out that they have OCD. People with OCD may also have a hard time effectively communicating with others, which can affect intimacy and make it hard to bond with them. Moreover, some OCD sufferers may avoid physical intimacy, especially sex, because they do not feel “connected or close to” their partners.
Lastly, some OCD sufferers become obsessed with their bodies. More specifically, these individuals with this obsession typically develop a negative body image that prevents them from becoming intimate, especially physically intimate with their partners. Because these individuals have a poor view of their bodies, it can cause them to forgo any activities that show their bodies, and involve intimacy, such as sex, sexual activities, wearing a bathing suit in front of others, or undressing in front of others.
A negative body image can also prevent OCD sufferers from becoming emotionally intimate. This stems from a fear that people – i.e., friends, their partners, co-workers, acquaintances, and family members are judging them for their bodies. The truth is most, if not all of the time, there is nothing “wrong” with their bodies.
The fear and doubt are irrational (not based on reality), although these individuals are unable to get these intrusive thoughts, fears, and doubts out of their minds. This can prevent OCD sufferers from “letting people into” or being emotionally intimate with their thoughts, emotions, feelings, beliefs, fears, goals, etc.
How Does OCD Affect Intimacy?
As mentioned above, OCD can have a significant impact on both emotional and physical intimacy. OCD sufferers may avoid certain situations that involve sex, sexual activities, and even physical touching, including holding hands, skin-to-skin contact, being in a crowded room or having sex. This lack of intimacy sometimes stems from a fear of germs and contamination.
These individuals may also fear that someone, including the OCD sufferer, may become injured during sex or sexual activities. Stress, anxiety, intrusive thoughts, intense fears of harm, and/or urges to perform rituals or routines can trigger an OCD cycle, making intimacy (emotionally or physically) feel almost impossible.
What Causes OCD-Related Intimacy Issues?
The exact cause(s) of OCD-related intimacy issues vary.
Some people with OCD may struggle with intimacy because they feel like they or their partners are “dirty” or contaminated. Or, they may fear that physical intimacy of any kind, but especially of the sexual kind could make them or their partners ill, so they avoid any type of physical encounter. People, who suffer from upsetting and intrusive sexual thoughts, fears, mental images, and/or urges, may avoid emotional and physical intimacy for fear of being judged for them by other people.
Some people with OCD may avoid emotional and physical intimacy for fear of being rejected, judged, or criticized by their partners, or feeling “unworthy” or “inadequate,” or “not smart or good enough,” for their partners, friends, and/or loved ones. Some OCD sufferers have a hard time being intimate with others because of past experiences and traumas (I.e., child sexual abuse, sexual assault, rape, multiple failed or unhealthy relationships, etc.).
What Does the Research Say About OCD-Related Intimacy Issues?
According to a 2020 study, some people with OCD struggle with social interactions, an excessive need to control their thoughts and lives, a “disgust hypersensitivity,” and hiding obsessions not only make it hard to develop and maintain healthy relationships. Researchers suggest that these factors can impede an OCD sufferer’s ability to be intimate with others.
These individuals fear that if people were to find out about the obsessions and/or compulsions, they would make fun of them, and/or avoid them, which would likely make their OCD symptoms worse. Merely having intrusive thoughts, fears, and doubts could lead to shame and guilt, which could also hamper intimacy. Still, it can be hard for your loved ones, especially your partner, to fully understand the thought processes and behaviors linked to OCD, leading to feelings of betrayal, low self-esteem, and frustration.
Understand that it is common for loved ones of OCD sufferers, who do not understand the “ins and outs” of OCD, may feel that their OCD loved ones are thinking and/or behaving in certain ways (on purpose), or that something is inherently “wrong” with them. Because of this mentality, loved ones may eventually lose respect for them. As a result, OCD sufferers are more likely to separate or get divorced.
What Does It Feel Like to Grapple With OCD-Related Intimacy Issues?
Listed below are some real-life experiences of OCD-related intimacy issues:
“I crave intimacy, but sometimes it feels like I do not want it, or even enjoy it. It sucks because I do not want to feel that way, yet I do. I tried to explain to my boyfriend that it is the OCD making me doubt how I feel – not him. I love my boyfriend and I will choose him, regardless of what my reptilian brain tries to tell me. He is really understanding, which I appreciate, but I still wish I could be different – more intimate with him, but I just can’t. I know why but it is still hard.”
“I have broken up with boyfriends because I start to feel so guilty about not having sex with them. I have an obsession with getting pregnant, so having sex is extremely anxiety-provoking. So, when I am ‘forced’ to be intimate with my boyfriends, I take non-stop showers, and wash my sheets over and over.” It makes me fill disgusting and tainted. I wish I could be intimate and enjoy sex, but I just cannot. I do not think I even know how to at this point.”
“So, I have been trying to deal with these horrible intrusive sexual thoughts, but some days are better than others. I was trying to be intimate with my girlfriend last night, and those nasty thoughts kept popping into my mind. I was trying so hard to focus on my girlfriend, but I was so focused on making sure my body did not react to the nasty thoughts I was having. I cried after sex. I tried to explain to my girlfriend that it was my thoughts that did not let me enjoy our ‘sexy time.’
I just want to know if anyone else has experienced this on their bad days with OCD. I just really want to go back to ‘normal.’ Every day, I have been battling with myself, and it just sucks. I am trying so hard not to react to the thoughts, emotionally, because I heard that just makes them occur more severely more often. But it is so hard when I am trying to enjoy a nice moment or some peace, and my thoughts ruin it.”
How is OCD Treated?
The standard OCD treatments involve a combination approach of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, along with other therapies such as TMS therapy, a trauma-based therapy, couples or marriage counseling, family therapy, addiction therapy, individual therapy, group therapy, etc.
When OCD therapies are ineffective, OCD medications may be added to the mix. The most common OCD medications are SSRIs (i.e., Luvox, Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft, etc.), however, SNRIs, tricyclic antidepressants, antipsychotics, etc., may be used for treatment-resistant OCD.
Non-traditional OCD treatments may involve mindfulness meditation, yoga, acupuncture, journaling, eating healthy foods, getting proper sleep (OCD is linked to insomnia), trying vitamins and minerals, learning healthy coping skills and strategies, attending OCD support groups, joining OCD Reddit forums, reading OCD workbooks and books, and self-help tools, like Impulse Therapy, an online OCD treatment program.
What Are Other Ways to Overcome OCD-Related Intimacy Issues?
OCD-related intimacy issues can be challenging to cope with; however, it is important to remember that you are not alone. Many OCD sufferers deal with a wide range of intimacy issues. The good news is you can gain control over those intrusive thoughts, self-doubts, and fears and develop healthy, intimate relationships with your partner, loved one, and friends.
Understand, however, that these thoughts, fears, and doubts are not real. It is also normal to experience stress and anxiety when it comes to being emotionally or physically intimate with someone, but to overcome them, you must realize that they are not based on reality. Moreover, it is important to be honest, open, and vulnerable with your friends, loved ones, and partner.
If you are afraid of being abandoned or rejected share this with your partner, friends, and family. This will help your loved ones better understand your doubts and fears, so they can provide you with the support, love, and help needed to overcome them. Do not forget to take your time. You will not magically become intimate with people, simply by applying these tips. No, it will take trust, becoming vulnerable, and allowing yourself to be intimate with others.
Perhaps, you could start small with physical intimacy. Maybe, the second step could involve simple hugs. Then, maybe you could progress to gentle touches and holding hands. Next, this could evolve into kisses, foreplay, and then sex, or other sexual activities. Or, maybe you could improve your emotional intimacy by sharing small facts about yourself, expressing yourself when you are sad, mad, upset, ill, etc., and watching how others react to it.
After that, you could progress to more “personal” things, watching how others react to them. Then, after you have built up trust with someone or a few people, you can start talking about your condition – OCD – explaining what it is, how it affects you, and how they can help you better manage it so you do not feel so closed off from everyone. The key is taking baby steps.
Conquering OCD-related intimacy issues is not a sprint – it’s a marathon, so take your time. In all honesty, overcoming OCD-related intimacy issues will likely require sharing your concerns with an OCD therapist. He or she can help you better understand your intimacy issues, fears, doubts, intrusive thoughts, and anxiety, so you can properly deal with and develop healthy, “intimate” relationships of all kinds.
An OCD therapist may also assign role-playing homework for you to try with your partner, friends, and/or family members. He or she may also have you participate in role-play activities during couples or family therapy sessions. The goal of role-playing is to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes,” so to speak.
This therapy technique is to help you better understand how your lack of intimacy is affecting others in your life, and give you a glimpse of how you are behaving. The aim is to foster empathy for yourself and others.
- Koolwal, A., Agarwal, S., Manohar, S., Koolwal, G. D., & Gupta, A. (2020). Obsessive–compulsive disorder and sexuality: A narrative review. Journal of Psychosexual Health, 2(1), 37-43. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2631831819896171#bibr46-2631831819896171