So you think you might be a pedophile, but have zero desire to pursue children sexually? You are not alone! Pedophilia OCD is incredibly common. Keep in mind that OCD attacks what you are passionate about. Typically when someone has pedophilia OCD they might work with children, have children, wish to have children soon, or are in a stage of life where sexuality is a significant focus (post puberty and teenage years). This domain of OCD typically starts with people experiencing an intrusive thought about the subject. Later, they check their bodies for physiological responses after having an intrusive thought or seeing a child. For example, upon seeing a child or touching them (holding them or changing a diaper) a man will think about whether his penis “twitched” and a woman will try to focus on whether she felt a certain “tingle.” I hear this all the time! Currently while writing this specific blog, I have four clients battling pedophilia OCD whom I see weekly. Three are professional women and one is a male teenager.
Sexually intrusive thoughts is one of the more common domains of OCD and pedophilia falls under that umbrella. This obsession specifically is a bit more sensitive for people to talk about for obvious reasons, which is why I’m writing this blog. The more information there is about this topic, the more clients will know that they are not alone.
Exposure response prevention treatment (ERP) is the empirically supported treatment modality for all domains of OCD. It involves exposing you to your fear in small doses over time until you are essentially desensitized (clinicians say “habituated”) to the fear. Clients will initially tell me that they don’t want to be desensitized to pedophilia. I have to remind them that we are only desensitizing them from their fear/doubt about whether they are a pedophile.
If left untreated, pedophilia OCD can get so severe that people will avoid children. They will avoid their jobs if children are present. They may even be scared to hug or change the diapers of their own children. I’ve had clients who refuse to bathe their children and will have their spouse do it. They might even consider separating from their spouse so that they are not around their children. They will start asking themselves these types of questions: what if my son or daughter thinks I did something inappropriately, what if my spouse finds out that I think I might be pedophile and then leaves me, what if my boss finds out and I loose my job and/or professional license. The ‘what if’ questions are endless.
Most of the time the OCD morphs in predictable ways as someone engages in exposure response prevention treatment. The client starts off with “what if I’m a pedophile.” As the client does exposures, the fear typically morphs to “what if my treatment is making me become a pedophile because I’m no longer triggered by my exposures.” I personally find this thought funny because it’s as if I’m training people to become a pedophile! Later it might morph to “what if I’m somehow wrongly accused of harming a child.” I tell clients all the time that when the OCD tries to morph during treatment, it is a good sign. It means the OCD is threatened and is trying to find other ways to thrive. You would just need to keep doing the ERP until there is no more distress related to the intrusive thoughts.
It is important to know that the goal of ERP is to not give you certainty about your fear. It is simply increasing your tolerance of the uncertainty. In other words, ERP will not eliminate your intrusive thoughts. That’s impossible. We all have intrusive thoughts. The only thing that distinguishes someone with OCD from someone who does not is the person with OCD will engage in compulsions and become stuck. After completing ERP treatment, you will still have intrusive thoughts, but they will no longer be threatening. In fact, you will learn to make fun of the intrusive thoughts and not take them so seriously!
If you have this domain of OCD and have not received ERP treatment, I can imagine your hesitancy and doubt in the treatment and the outcome I just described. But, keep this in mind, you already know what your life is like right now while not engaging in treatment. To put it bluntly, it sucks. There’s nothing worse than doubting who you are and your character. It makes sense to have some faith and try something different. Try ERP! Give me a call and I can tell you more about the treatment approach.