Pedophilia OCD (POCD) is a distressing form of OCD involving a fear of being or becoming a pedophile. But living with POCD isn’t the same as having pedophilia.

Pedophilia obsessive-compulsive disorder (POCD) is a subtype of OCD with intrusive thoughts — or obsessions — based on fears that you might be or become a pedophile. These obsessive thoughts can lead to anxiety and compulsions, which can cause serious disruptions to your life.

But POCD is not the same thing as pedophilia.

If you’re living with POCD, you aren’t a monster.

Help is available, and you can learn to challenge and cope with these thoughts — no matter how disturbing they may be to you.

Language matters

In this article, we refer to subtypes of OCD. While you may identify with a certain type of OCD, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) doesn’t distinguish specific types. OCD is the only clinically recognized condition but these other descriptors can be used to better understand the way OCD is manifesting in some people.

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic condition affecting around 4% of the population.

People with OCD typically experience unwanted, intrusive thoughts and feelings (obsessions), and may create behavioral “rituals” (compulsions) to try to neutralize anxiety and discomfort from obsessions.

They often fear things that have to do with the loss of their identity.

Pedophilia obsessive-compulsive disorder (POCD) is a form of OCD involving an obsessive fear of being or becoming a pedophile.

This type of OCD combines several common types of compulsions, including the fear of:

  • acting violently against vulnerable people (harm OCD)
  • being attracted to an inappropriate or wrong type of person (sexual orientation OCD or relationship OCD)
  • breaking society’s moral codes (moral scrupulosity)

If you or someone you love has POCD, it’s important to realize that neither you (nor they) are a pedophile. A person with POCD is actually terrified of being a pedophile and will typically go to great lengths to avoid any thoughts or actions that indicate pedophilia.

Purely-obsessional OCD is a term some people use to refer to a type of OCD in which you might mistakenly believe you have no outward compulsions or behaviors and only upsetting intrusive thoughts.

This term can be misleading. Because while a person may not display compulsions you can see, a person with any form of OCD will likely have at least some outward compulsions, including:

  • various types of checking such as internet searching or taking note of bodily reactions and sensations
  • seeking reassurance
  • avoiding objects, situations, people, or places that might trigger the obsessional thoughts

POCD often presents in a similar way. Harm OCD (HOCD) and relationship OCD (ROCD) are both often grouped together as purely-obsessional OCD.

Harm OCD

HOCD involves obsessive thoughts about potentially hurting others. This can include fearful thoughts such as:

  • murdering or stabbing someone
  • giving in to the desire to hurt another person
  • acting on a violent urge
  • fear of one day hurting a loved one

Relationship OCD

Relationship OCD also involves obsessive thoughts. Unlike harm OCD, the thoughts don’t revolve around the fear of hurting others. Instead, your fearful thoughts can include:

  • seeing another attractive person may mean you’re unfaithful to your partner
  • fear of not being good enough for your partner
  • failure to get aroused from contact with them may mean you no longer love them
  • fear that you’re not with the right person

Pedophilia OCD doesn’t look the same for each person. You may have different thoughts or triggers than other people with POCD.

Some common themes in symptoms can include:

  • avoiding events or places where children may be present
  • not making eye contact with others because of feelings of shame or fear that they’ll judge you as a pedophile
  • intrusive thoughts of sexual attraction, actions, or other thoughts involving children
  • obsessive fears of being or becoming a pedophile
  • anxiety related to the unwanted sexual thoughts or fears of being a pedophile

POCD reassurance

POCD reassurance involves behaviors that you may engage in to prevent POCD thoughts and fears. It can cause symptoms such as:

  • obsessively washing hands or body after contact with children
  • constantly asking about thoughts and fears with loved ones
  • any activity that helps calm the anxiety or prevent the thought from occurring

POCD avoidance

Avoidance refers to trying to avoid people, activities, objects, places, and so on that may trigger your POCD thoughts and fears.

For example, you might avoid parks, schools, or other areas where children may be present. Or, you may specifically choose not to interact with your or other people’s children.

People with POCD can have several different triggers. A trigger can be anything that causes you or others to experience an obsessive, intrusive thought about sexual desires or feelings toward children.

Some potential triggers can include:

  • being around children
  • visiting a park with children
  • picking up a child from school
  • visiting friends with kids

In other words, regular, otherwise mundane events could possibly trigger POCD obsessive thoughts. As these thoughts persist, people with POCD can experience increased anxiety and distress.

The exact cause of OCD or why some people may experience POCD isn’t fully known or understood. But researchers believe a combination of factors may increase a person’s chance of developing OCD.

Common causes of OCD include:

  • brain structure
  • genetics
  • environment
  • temperament

Treatment for OCD often involves a combination of therapy and medication.

But finding appropriate treatment can sometimes be tricky for people with pedophilia OCD. Many mental health professionals may not be well-trained in OCD beyond some of the classic symptoms such as handwashing and other rituals.

But they’re often well versed in assessing the potential chance of threat or danger. This could lead some people with POCD to avoid seeking help due to a fear of being reported.

It’s important to note that while there are mandated reporting guidelines, mental health professionals are also required to follow federal guidelines to protect sensitive health information from being disclosed without a person’s consent or approval. So, they can’t report you unless they’ve been ordered to do so.

Remember that therapy is a safe space to express difficult emotions and work through distressing thoughts.

Whether you or a loved one is living with OCD symptoms, finding a therapist who understands OCD treatment can help ensure your comfort with treatment and its potential success. The International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) offers a guide for finding a therapist.

Some questions they recommend asking include:

  • What is your treatment success rate?
  • What therapy methods do you use?
  • How do you feel about medication?

Exposure therapy

Once you find a therapist who’s a good fit for you and you feel comfortable with, they may recommend exposure response prevention (ERP) therapy — a form of cognitive behavioral therapy.

ERP involves helping you face the thing you fear such as being a pedophile or having feelings of arousal around children and then addressing the shame associated with these thoughts.

You’ll be slowly exposed to more situations that will trigger intrusive, unwanted thoughts and the anxiety associated with them. The goal of treatment is to face thoughts and allow the anxiety to decrease as exposure increases.

This type of therapy also often involves learning relaxation and coping strategies to help manage these thoughts.

Other therapies

Other therapies that can help manage your symptoms include:

A treatment plan will be tailored to your unique needs and symptoms.

Pedophilia OCD involves experiencing obsessive thoughts or fears about pedophilia.

While pedophilic disorder and pedophilia OCD are not the same things, there can be some overlap in their symptoms. Only a mental health professional will be able to determine which one you’re experiencing.

A psychological evaluation or testing may be done to help determine if your thoughts are considered pedophilia or OCD.

If you have pedophilia OCD, you can find help for the intrusive, often disturbing thoughts about pedophilia. Choosing the right therapist can be key to getting effective treatment. It’s important that you feel comfortable talking about your symptoms in a safe space.

If you’re looking for help but aren’t sure where to start, you can check out Psych Central’s guide to finding a mental health professional.