There’s apparently a growing number of straight men and women who are terrified that they’re gay. It’s called “Homosexual OCD” (HOCD) and while it’s not an official psychological condition, some mental health professionals disagree on whether it’s a specific form of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) or whether it’s just a type of internalized homophobia.
Esquire recently did a deep dive into the subject. Basically, people who suffer from HOCD experience recurrent intrusive worries about their sexual identity: They’ll spend hours each day “checking” or “testing” their levels of sexual arousal or attraction to men and women, worrying about whether they should come out to friends and family members. Many withdraw from their romantic partners or social circle in fear that they’re lying about their true sexual identity.
This may all sound pretty standard to any gay or bisexual person who didn’t want to be attracted to the same sex, but the big caveat in HOCD is that the sufferers aren’t actually gay or bi, they’re just experiencing “intrusive sexual thoughts,” something experienced by 25% of diagnosed OCD sufferers.
While most established OCD charities acknowledge and treat “intrusive sexual thoughts” as a legitimate feature of OCD, other psychological health experts worry that HOCD has no scientific backing and is just a concept founded on homophobia and pseudo-science.
Elizabeth Peel, chair of the British Psychological Society’s Psychology of Sexualities, says that therapies pledging to treat HOCD are “simply conversion therapy under another guise and something we strongly condemn as damaging.” Conversion therapy, of course, refers to the practice of psychological torture used to turn a gay or bisexual person heterosexual, something which has been thoroughly debunked and disavowed by pretty much every major American psychological association. (The practice remains legal in most of the United States though.)
Professor Dinesh Bhugra, former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, also said:
“By ‘creating’ such a condition [like HOCD], there is a serious danger of medicalizing normal human emotions and turning lots of people who are in various stages of coming out, and for various reasons are struggling to accept their sexuality, into ‘ill’ individuals.”
The worry is that feeling confused about your sexual identity is a common part of sexual maturity made more difficult by societal and internalized homophobia. If the psychological community pathologizes those worries and seeks to reassure questioning people that they’re actually straight, it’s really no different than conversion therapy.
But, Esquire writer Nick Pope asks, “Could it be that this kind of socio-politically vigilant thinking might impede our ability to engage with this particular mental health disorder in a nuanced manner?”
Cognitive behavioral therapist Avy Joseph says that instead of writing off HOCD sufferers as mere questioning folks with internalized homophobia, he suggests that psychological counselors run an assessment to see if people with HOCD find people of the same sex sexually arousing — Do they have wet dreams about people of the same sex or are excited by the idea of sex with them? If the person is not gay or bisexual, then the therapist could help HOCD sufferers accept the questioning thoughts as normal and not an indicator of a hidden sexual identity.
Joseph adds that there’s a growing body of online videos and testimonies about HOCD from sufferers and therapists alike. He doesn’t see their existence as harmful in and of themselves, just as long as they help people understand their own experiences and let go of the stresses they associate with them.
(Featured image by Vasilisa_k via iStock Photography)