Sad man in bed.

Sexual orientation OCD can hurt a marriage.

“Last year my husband told me that he is worried he may be gay.  He has been constantly worrying about this even though he isn’t physically attracted to other men.  He says that when he speaks to men his heart will start beating quicker, and that makes him feel like he must be gay, because he feels calm and relaxed when he speaks to women.  About a week ago he had a dream that he woke up next to a man in his bed, but when he actually woke from that dream he didn’t have any anxiety, and he felt that only a gay person would not be anxious. 

"He reads articles online about how big one finger on his hand is compared to another, and these 'finger length studies' have proven that he is gay even though the thought of being with a man disgusts him.  Last night when we were intimate with each other he stopped in the middle of it. He said that he was imagining men in his head to see if his erection would go away, and it didn’t.  I don’t think that he is gay, but either way it is damaging our relationship, and I don’t know what to do!  How can I convince him that he is not gay, and that he really has OCD?” - A woman married to a man with OCD

Sexual orientation OCD:  An obsession that can ruin a marriage


Sexual orientation themed obsessive-compulsive disorder

(SO-OCD), is also sometimes called homosexual OCD (HOCD). SO-OCD includes reoccurring obsessions about whether or a person is LGBTQ or straight, fears of changing sexual orientation, or fears that others may believe that the person is LGBTQ (Williams, 2008).  Men with this condition are not attracted to other men emotionally or physically, but no matter how much you reason with them they will continue to obsess over the issue. These obsessions, part of this specific form of OCD, cannot just be willed away.  Efforts to suppress obsessions generally fail and paradoxically make the obsessions stronger (Wegner, 1994).  A person with SO-OCD doesn’t want to act out the thought, and their ultimate goal is to stop thinking about it.  They are not in the closet and they are not homophobes, but they have a form of OCD that turns into a lifelong nightmare for themselves and often their marriages. 

Anyone who is married knows that a long-term commitment comes with a price.  For example, your spouse may forget to take out the garbage, put the dishes away improperly, or even snore for hours through the night.  You may even be at a point in your marriage where you are asking yourself, “How could this get any worse.”  In addition to the usual challenges in your marriage, imagine if your husband was obsessed with other men!

“I am to the point to where I don’t know what to believe anymore.  I switch back and forth between gay and straight porn to see which one causes an erection.  About 15 times a day I bend over and kiss a pillow just to check and see if I enjoy it.  Oftentimes if I see a man and woman walking down the street I will look both of them up and down, and I will check with my hand to see if I moved down south.  I freak out at the thought of having a sexual relationship with a guy, but I worry that I’m truly gay and I will have to choose that route one day.  This problem has ruined my last several relationships with women because of the stress of dealing with me and my obsessions ... I literally can’t take it anymore!” – A man with SO-OCD

Supporting the spouse with sexual obsessions

What can you do to help?  As a spouse there are things that you should and shouldn’t do because they can make the obsessions worse.  The wife at the beginning of this article asked, “How can I convince him that he is not gay and has OCD?”  It is common for someone with SO-OCD to ask for reassurance to see if others think they are LGBTQ, but telling them they are straight is not effective and it may even cause the obsessions to get worse. 

Here are some tips to help your spouse with SO-OCD:

  • Read as much as you can about the disorder so that you can understand your spouse and their obsessions
  • Log into online forums and read what others with SO-OCD are struggling with so that you can learn to be more empathetic for your spouse (ex. www.ocdtypes.com)
  • Let them know that with the right treatment a majority of individuals with OCD will have a decrease in symptoms
  • Tag along and be supportive if your spouse decides to see a therapist
  • Attend a conference hosted by the International OCD Foundation
  • Join a local OCD support group and gain a network of support from individuals with the same condition

A couple under the trees

Reclaim your marriage from OCD.

Another way that you can help your spouse and others with OCD is to consider participating in research about the topic.  Unfortunately, very little research  has focused on how OCD affects marital satisfaction.  If you are married and either you or your spouse has OCD then consider participating in a paid study by clicking here to complete an online questionnaire.

Providing support for your spouse with SO-OCD may be tough but it is important to continue loving your spouse.  If your husband has this condition, regardless of how many times he asks for reassurance or tells you a story that “proves” that he "may be gay," make it your responsibility to love him by being patient.  Remember why you got married in the first place and continue to work toward a healthy relationship with each other.

by Nicholas Bach, B.A., and Monnica Williams, Ph.D.

Resources

Wegner, D. M. (1994). Ironic processes of mental control. Psychological Review, 101, 34-52.

Williams, M. (2008). Homosexuality Anxiety: A Misunderstood Form of OCD. In L. V. Sebeki (ed), Leading-Edge Health Education Issues, Nova Publishers.  

Williams, M. T., Crozier, M., & Powers, M. B. (2011). Treatment of Sexual Orientation Obsessions in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder using Exposure and Ritual Prevention. Clinical Case Studies, 10, 53-66.

Williams, M. T., & Farris, S. G. (2011). Sexual Orientation Obsessions in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Prevalence and Correlates. Psychiatry Research, 187, 156-159.

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