What are sexually intrusive thoughts

Deborah C. Escalante

By Monnica Williams, Ph.D., ABPP


Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts, impulses, or mental images that cause anxiety, and stress. They can also make it hard to carry out everyday responsibilities at work, at school, or in the home.  These thoughts may focus on the fear of committing an act a person considers harmful, violent, immoral, sexually inappropriate, or sacrilegious. The person does not want to act on these thoughts (although the OCD may attempt to persuade the person that there is a chance), and these thoughts bring no pleasure, causing extreme distress.

Sexual Intrusive Thoughts consist of unwanted sexual thoughts. This may include fears related to one’s sexual orientation or what others might think. It may also contain mental imagery of sexual behaviors that the individual finds immoral or abhorrent.  The person may fear committing a harmful sexual act or being sexually aggressive. Individuals with OCD may even suffer from unwanted intrusive thoughts about committing a sexual act with a child. This is not the same as having a sexual fantasy, being a pedophile, or being homophobic.


Examples of sexual intrusive thoughts:

  • Recurrent fears of sexual acts with a child
  • Recurrent worries about having a different sexual orientation
  • Repetitive thoughts of touching someone inappropriately on impulse
  • Unwanted sexual thoughts or images involving animals
  • Distressing thoughts about sex involving religious figures


DISCLAIMER: The content found here is intended to serve as educational content and is not intended to replace therapy. For treatment-related questions, please be sure to work with your local provider or contact a local clinician.


Additional Resources:

Psychology Today Article 

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).

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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?”

Sexually Intrusive Thoughts OCD Therapy and Counseling in San Jose/California

At the Cognitive Behavior Therapy Center of Silicon Valley, we offer cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) for Sexually Intrusive Thoughts OCD. Our approach is practical, goal-oriented, compassionate, and scientifically-based while focusing on your individual needs.

What is Sexually Intrusive Thoughts OCD?

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Sexually Intrusive Thoughts OCD involves unwanted sexual thoughts, often involving children, family members, inappropriate persons, animals, or violence. These sexual obsessions may involve sexual activities that are counter to your sexual orientation or preferences which can cause distress and confusion. They are different from fantasies, which are experienced as enjoyable.  Sexual obsessions are not pleasant and provoke guilt and shame.

Symptoms of Sexually Intrusive Thoughts OCD

  • Fears of being a pedophile or becoming a pedophile
  • Fear of being sexually attracted to animals
  • Fear of being sexually attracted to siblings, parents, or other relatives
  • Fear of becoming aggressive or violent during sex
  • Fear of losing control and acting out sexually
  • Mental rituals aimed at forcing unwanted sexual thoughts away such over-analysis of sexual thoughts, trying to force acceptable sexual thoughts into consciousness or mentally reviewing past sexual encounters

Cognitive Behavioral Model of Sexually Intrusive Thoughts OCD

According to the CBT model, it is normal to experience intrusive sexual thoughts from time to time. In fact, studies suggest that 90% of individuals experience sexually intrusive thoughts throughout their lifetimes. If you have Sexually Intrusive Thoughts OCD, however, you might view these experiences as threatening and assign a great deal to importance to these thoughts. For example, you may have the thought your mother is wearing an attractive outfit and interpret that to mean that you are sexually attracted to her. This causes you significant distress or anxiety. You may then attempt to soothe yourself with a ritual or compulsion that temporarily reduces your anxiety such as silently repeating to yourself that you are not attracted to your mother. Because anxiety is relieved in the short-term, the anxiety cycle continues with the next intrusive thought.

Cognitive Behavior Treatment of Sexually Intrusive Thoughts OCD

The goal of CBT for OCD is to teach you that you can manage the anxiety associated with intrusive sexual thoughts without performing compulsions or rituals. You will learn a type of CBT called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). Treatment will include education about Sexually Intrusive Thoughts OCD and how it is maintained, cognitive strategies that will help you respond differently to anxiety and intrusive sexual thoughts, and behavioral strategies to help you delay and/or eliminate compulsive behaviors. ERP/CBT will help you face your fears about acting out sexually, in session and in the real world, and practice new ways of responding to anxiety. With practice and experience in facing your fears, you will find yourself to be less disturbed by sexually intrusive thoughts and more able to cope with anxiety and uncertainty.

How to Get Help for Sexually Intrusive Thoughts OCD

The Cognitive Behavior Therapy Center of Silicon Valley is located at 16579 Los Gatos Almaden Road on the border of San Jose and Saratoga. With our convenient location between highways 85 and 17, we serve the Silicon Valley communities of San Jose, Saratoga, Mountain View, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Los Gatos, Los Altos, Palo Alto, Cupertino and Campbell, CA. Contact us for more information on how we can help you manage your Sexually Intrusive Thoughts OCD.

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Serving the Silicon Valley communities of San Jose, Saratoga, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Cupertino, Campbell, Mountain View, Los Altos, Sunnyvale, Palo Alto and Santa Clara, CA

San Jose Therapy Counseling • Saratoga Therapy Counseling • Los Gatos Therapy Counseling • Monte Sereno Therapy Counseling • Cupertino Therapy Counseling • Campbell Therapy Counseling • Mountain View Therapy Counseling • Los Altos Therapy Counseling • Sunnyvale Therapy Counseling • Santa Clara Therapy Counseling

People suffering from Sexual OCD are encouraged to seek treatment from a mental health treatment provider that specializes in the treatment of OCD.  OCD specialists are equipped and prepared to treat a wide array of OCD subtypes, including Sexual OCD. Like all types of OCD, Sexual OCD can be treated with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), specifically with treatment approaches called Exposure with Response Prevention (ERP), and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.

Mindful-Based CBT teaches patients that everyone experiences intrusive thoughts. Individuals will also learn that intrusive thoughts have no power over them and that by responding to their thoughts through compulsive behaviors, their thoughts are given more strength and credibility and their fears and obsessions are strengthened and reinforced. Mindfulness-Based CBT is a very effective OCD treatment, especially when combined with ERP.

ERP exposes patients to situations related to their intrusive thoughts that cause them anxiety. The goal of this treatment is for the patient to prevent himself or herself from completing their compulsive behaviors when triggered by intrusive thoughts. The situations that are confronted will intensify over time, until the patient can face and overcome their most feared scenario. Once they are able to stop themselves from responding to their intrusive thoughts with compulsive behaviors, they can experience tremendous relief from the symptoms of OCD.

If patients are suffering from severe levels of anxiety due to their OCD, they may benefit from participating in treatment at an Intensive Outpatient (IOP) OCD treatment program, as is offered by The Gateway Institute. The Gateway Institute offers Intensive Outpatient treatment options as well as regular outpatient psychotherapy sessions, and a free, 30 minute face-to-face consultation with one of our experienced and caring clinicians at all three of our beautiful locations in Orange County, Scottsdale, Arizona, and the San Francisco Bay Area.  OCD symptoms typically worsen over time and can take over a person’s life, so it is very important to seek OCD treatment as soon as possible with a skilled and dedicated OCD specialist who can provide expertise and support during this journey.

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