Why Can’t I Get These Sexual Intrusive Thoughts Out of My Head?
Approximately 80-90 percent of people have experienced intrusive thoughts at one time or another.
According to researchers, people can have up to 6,200 thoughts a day.
Most of these thoughts are random, unforeseen, unwanted, involuntary, and unprovoked. For instance, an intrusive thought may be, “Do I need butter? I think I am out. I need to go to the store after work.” Or, “The grass in front of my house looks a little tall. Perhaps, I should mow it.” On the flip side, some intrusive thoughts can be extremely upsetting, especially if they are sexual and/or involve minors, animals, and/or are violent.
Although, having intrusive thoughts can be more of a nuisance than anything when they involve disturbing, taboo, and/or uncomfortable content. These types of thoughts can ramp up your stress and anxiety, leading to a non-stop OCD cycle.
Sexual intrusive thoughts typically involve fears regarding one’s sexuality or sexual orientation, fear of sexually harming other people, especially members of the opposite sex, a fear of being sexually attracted to underage people, especially infants, young children, or teens, and/or a fear of being attracted to family members like a cousin or sibling.
If you are unsure what constitutes a sexual intrusive thought – Look no more. This article will teach you what intrusive sexual thoughts are, what triggers them, and how you can deal with them when they arise.
What Are Intrusive Thoughts?
Before we can delve into sexual intrusive thoughts, we must understand what intrusive thoughts are in general. Intrusive thoughts are unwelcome thoughts, fears, doubts, urges, or mental images that are upsetting, annoying, and/or frightening. Intrusive thoughts can prevent you from completing everyday tasks, such as getting ready for work, leaving for work, completing work or school tasks, cleaning your home, paying bills, taking care of your kids, etc.
Intrusive thoughts can even affect your romantic relationships, family dynamics, and/or friendships – because of the thoughts crowding your mind. Most of the time, these thoughts have an unhealthy, immoral, violent, or sexually inappropriate component to them. Understand, however, that no one wants to have intrusive thoughts – they are unwanted and involuntary. And, while most of the time these thoughts are merely a nuisance, other times, they cause extreme stress, angst, and distress.
What Are Sexual Intrusive Thoughts?
Now that we understand what intrusive thoughts are, it is time to delve into sexual intrusive thoughts. What are they? Well, just like intrusive thoughts, sexual intrusive thoughts are unwanted and involuntary sexual thoughts, mental images, fears, doubts, and/or urges. More specifically, these thoughts involve a fear, worry, or concern that you could do something “sexually violent” or “sexually inappropriate” to yourself or someone else.
Fortunately, you are unlikely to act upon these distressing thoughts. But, the fear of doing so can be enough, in some situations, to spark severe stress, anxiety, depression, and/or panic attacks. You most likely want these distressing sexual thoughts to go away, and you feel compelled to try things (i.e., rituals and routines) to make them stop, but, alas, they persist. That is the nature of the beast – OCD.
As prefaced above, sexual intrusive thoughts may also involve fears that revolve around your sexuality or sexual orientation (i.e., other people’s perceptions of your sexuality or sexual orientation). They may also contain mental images of sexual acts and behaviors – images that you may find offensive, deviant, or immoral.
Or, you may be afraid that you will engage in a dangerous or unhealthy sexual act or become sexually aggressive towards your partner or someone else. Some people with OCD have scary sexual thoughts involving minors (i.e., having sex with them or engaging in sexual acts with them). Understand that sexual intrusive thoughts are not the same thing as having sexual fantasies or being a pedophile.
What Causes Sexual Intrusive Thoughts?
The exact cause of sexual intrusive thoughts varies; however, these thoughts usually involve people, things, ideas, or animals that you care about. Keep in mind that many people have sexually intrusive thoughts from time to time, especially if they suffer from OCD. For instance, you may worry that you are sexually attracted to your cousin because you cannot get how sexy he is out of your mind.
But, similar to the causes of OCD, sexual intrusive thoughts may be genetic or biological, environmental (i.e., pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders or PANDAS, a condition that involves children, who contracted a strep infection, and then, suddenly developed OCD symptoms afterward), a background or family history of anxiety, depression, OCD, or another mental health condition, childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault, trauma, etc. Substance abuse or drug and alcohol addiction and/or “porn use” can also trigger or exacerbate sexual intrusive thoughts.
Why Am I Having Sexual Intrusive Thoughts?
You may be experiencing sexual intrusive thoughts if you suffer from one or more of these conditions:
- Unresolved trauma, sexual assault, past sexual child abuse, etc.
- An anxiety condition like OCD, PTSD, GAD, panic disorders or panic attacks, etc.
- Eating disorders like anorexia, binging, or bulimia
- Porn addiction, drug and alcohol addiction, sex addiction, or other addictions
Why these mental health conditions? Because these conditions involve upsetting and uncontrollable thought patterns, which increases the likelihood of experiencing sexual intrusive thoughts.
What Are Sexual Intrusive Thoughts About?
Listed below are the most common sexual intrusive thoughts:
- An extreme fear of being attracted to a relative, animal, dead/inanimate objects, and/or minors (children and teens)
- Intense fear of committing a sexually inappropriately act
- A terrifying fear of engaging in violence during sex or sexual acts
- Reoccurring or constant fears involving sexually abusing, engaging in sexual acts, or having sex with a child or teen
- Reoccurring or constant worries or concerns geared towards your sexuality or sexual orientation
- Repetitive thoughts of touching someone, especially children inappropriately
- Unwelcomed sexual thoughts or images involving animals, for instance, your pets
- Sexually-explicit thoughts about having sex with religious figures, such as your pastor or members of your church congregation
How Common are Sexual Intrusive Thoughts?
Researchers suggest that approximately 30% of people with OCD have or have had sexually intrusive thoughts at one point, however, this estimate may be an underestimation of the actual number of people who have these “types” of intrusive thoughts.
Note: Many people, who experience sexual intrusive thoughts, are reluctant to talk about them so they often go unreported.
Who Has Sexual Intrusive Thoughts More – Men or Women?
Both men and women experience sexual intrusive thoughts at the same rate, and as a result, these thoughts can, and often will, negatively affect romantic relationships and marriages. Fear, anxiety, and emotional distress can prevent people with OCD, who constantly have sexual intrusive thoughts, from being “fully present” with their partners or spouses, leading to hurt feelings, feelings of betrayal, distrust, anger, hostility, confusion, low self-esteem, and/or emotional detachment.
Are Sexual Intrusive Thoughts the Same as Sexual Fantasies?
No, they are not.
A common misunderstanding or myth is that sexual intrusive thoughts are really just sexual fantasies, however, this is untrue. Sexual intrusive thoughts and sexual fantasies are not the same things. Sexual fantasies are designed to provide you with pleasurable images, while sexual intrusive thoughts or obsessions involve your fear of engaging in inappropriate, deviant, or socially unacceptable sexual acts, such as sexual child abuse or pedophilia, bestiality, rape or sexual assault, etc. People who suffer from sexually intrusive thoughts do not want to have them and are ashamed of them.
What Is It Like to Have Sexual Intrusive Thoughts?
Chronic sexual intrusive thoughts can wreak havoc on your life in a variety of ways – i.e., personal, social, romantic, financial, work, etc.
Listed below are some personal narratives of what it is like to have sexual intrusive thoughts:
“Hey, I just want to share my story about my horrible battle with sexual intrusive thoughts. Roughly a couple of months ago, while watching one of my favorite shows, Friends, I started (unwillingly) to think about one of the characters in a compromising/sexual way. This suddenly ruined the show. A few moments later those thoughts began including other characters, even those that I found completely unattractive.
Now, the sexual thoughts have transferred to my favorite movies, and it is depressing me because I cannot enjoy the things I used to enjoy. Before I used to have no problem watching movie sex scenes, but now the mere thought of sex scenes triggers unwanted sexual thoughts involving the characters (this applies to anything related to the brand/franchise, even background music).
These thoughts range from strange situations to just visualizing them naked, and it literally causes me to look at the characters as “sexual objects.” This has led me down a spiral of continuous sexual intrusive thoughts and repetitive re-watching of sex scenes and/or looking up images on Google with the hope that I will not get those thoughts anymore, but it did not work.
This is honestly ruining my life because things I have done all my life are suddenly plagued by these awful thoughts. It has even transferred to everyday life, for example, at school I constantly look at people and have to remind myself to not look at them as “objects.” I wish I could enjoy my former television, movies, and activities. Will I ever be able to enjoy things again?”
“I am a young guy, aged 22. I was a happy person with a lot of friends. I was having a good life like every other young person my age, but for the past two months, I have been extremely depressed.
I used to watch porn videos — from the age of 14 — but I felt guilty after watching them, so eventually, I stopped watching them. Recently, I started being fearful as to if I will always have unwanted sexual thoughts about my mother. The fear is horrifying to me. I feel like I am a horrible person. I have lost interest in the things I used to enjoy. This problem started about two weeks after I took my college exams, which I failed.
Day by day, the sexual intrusive thoughts and my fears worsen, and now I am frequently getting unwanted thoughts. They cause me to become really tense, anxious, and sad…I cry almost every day because of these thoughts. My psychiatrist diagnosed me with mild depression stemming from my sexual intrusive thoughts and prescribed me antidepressants.
I have been taking them for about a month. Now, I am getting unwanted sexual thoughts about random females, regardless of their ages, which is really out of character for me and is only making me more depressed. I cannot concentrate on anything, and I have another exam coming up. My parents are worried about my sudden change of behavior. Will I be able to get relief from the sexual intrusive thoughts, so I can have the peaceful life I had before all of this?”
What Should I Do If I Have Sexual Intrusive Thoughts?
There are many things you can do if you are experiencing sexual intrusive thoughts, such as:
- Pay Attention
Pay attention to your thoughts and document them in a journal or monthly planner. Do not ignore or dismiss them because acknowledging and accepting them (from an “observer” or “witness” perspective) is the only way you will be able to stop them. Identification, acknowledgment, acceptance, and exposure are the keys to success.
Try to figure out why you are having the thoughts. “What were you doing before the sexual intrusive thoughts began?” “What do you think triggered the thoughts?” “Do you notice any patterns in your sexual intrusive thoughts, and if so, what are they?” “How often do you have these thoughts?” “When did the thought begin?”
You can minimize the emotional and psychological damage of the sexual intrusive thoughts by following those steps (identification, acknowledgment, acceptance, and exposure). Reassure yourself that the thoughts mean nothing and do not define you.
Acknowledge the thoughts but tell yourself they are unimportant and powerless. Keep reminding yourself that the sexual intrusive thoughts are just thoughts – nothing more. And, just because you have thoughts does not mean you will act on them, because it is highly unlikely that you will.
- Stop Avoiding Your Thoughts
The worst thing you can do is avoid your thoughts. Having sexual intrusive thoughts can be extremely scary, but avoiding them will not make them go away. Moreover, it is an unhealthy and counterproductive coping mechanism. Acknowledge and accept these upsetting thoughts but do not allow them to control your behavior.
- Stop Judging Yourself
People have a habit of judging themselves – even for things out of their control. And, having sexual intrusive thoughts can make us feel like something is inherently wrong with us when that is not the case. You are not a “bad person” because unwanted sexual thoughts pop into your mind. Do not take it personally. Remember, these thoughts do not define you. You are not those thoughts and are unlikely to act on them. So, give yourself a break.
- Try Self-Help Tools
A good way to get a grasp on your sexual intrusive thoughts is to invest in Impulse Therapy, an online OCD treatment program that can teach you healthy coping skills and strategies for when sexual intrusive thoughts arise.
Impulse Therapy offers a wealth of information, self-help tools, tips, and resources to help you manage your OCD thoughts in healthier and more positive ways. Other self-help tools may include yoga, natural remedies, vitamins or herbal supplements, CBD, an exercise program, a new healthy diet, hypnosis, acupuncture, mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, journaling, reading books on OCD, OCD support groups, OCD forums, etc.
- Seek Help
If these tips do not work, it may be time to seek OCD help for your sexual intrusive thoughts. Finding the right OCD therapist and treatment program may be challenging, but with research, effort, and persistence, you will find the best course of treatment for your OCD symptoms (non-stop sexual intrusive thoughts). An OCD therapist can help you get to the root of your intrusive thoughts, process them, and teach you healthy coping skills and strategies to help you combat and prevent their reoccurrence.
How are Sexual Intrusive Thoughts Usually Treated?
If you suffer from reoccurring or chronic sexual intrusive thoughts, you must seek OCD treatment for them. Make sure you select an OCD therapist, who has expertise in OCD causes, signs and symptoms, and treatments. The good news is most OCD therapists are equipped and prepared to treat a variety of “OCD subtypes,” such as sexual intrusive thoughts.
Similar to other “types” of OCD, sexual intrusive thoughts will likely be treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure-response prevention (ERP) therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and/or mindfulness-based CBT therapy, along with medication (antidepressants like SSRIs), lifestyle changes and self-help tools, like Impulse Therapy.
Mindfulness-based CBT helps you understand that everyone experiences intrusive thoughts at one time or another. You also learn that your sexual intrusive thoughts do not control you and that performing compulsions (rituals and routines) to stop them only keeps them going. In other words, it only gives them more power to wreak havoc on your life. Compulsions validate your fears, which, in turn, reinforces your OCD behaviors. Studies suggest that mindfulness-based CBT is an effective OCD treatment, especially when it is combined with ERP therapy.
ERP therapy, on the other hand, exposes you to situations related to your anxiety-provoking sexual intrusive thoughts. The goal of this treatment is to show you that your thoughts have no power over you and prevent you from engaging in compulsive behaviors – behaviors trigger by your sexual intrusive thoughts.
Once you confront these thoughts, they will diminish until they no longer have control over you. Once you can stop reacting to your sexual intrusive thoughts, you can get control over your OCD and resume your life – without constant intrusive thoughts, fears, urges, mental images, etc.
- Fabricant, Laura & Abramowitz, Jonathan & Dehlin, John & Twohig, Michael. (2013). A comparison of two brief interventions for obsessional thoughts: Exposure and acceptance. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 27, 195-209. Retrieved from https://jonabram.web.unc.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/2968/2013/09/Fabricant-et-al.-2013-ACT-IE-for-obsessions.pdf
- Craig, A. (2020). The discovery of ‘thought worms’ opens a window to the mind. Queen University: Queen Gazette. Retrieved from https://www.queensu.ca/gazette/stories/discovery-thought-worms-opens-window-mind
- Ruscio, A. M., Stein, D. J., Chiu, W. T., & Kessler, R. C. (2010). The epidemiology of obsessive-compulsive disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Molecular Psychiatry, 15(1), 53–63. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1038/mp.2008.94
- Külz, A. K., Landmann, S., Cludius, B., Hottenrott, B., Rose, N., Heidenreich, T., Hertenstein, E., Voderholzer, U., & Moritz, S. (2014). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy in obsessive-compulsive disorder: Protocol of a randomized controlled trial. BMC Psychiatry, 14, 314. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-014-0314-8
- Askey-Jones R. (2018). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: An efficacy study for mental health care staff. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 25(7), 380–389. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1111/jpm.12472