STD aren't the only "bugs" I fear catching
June 18, 2008 7:19 PM   Subscribe

I fear that my OCD will interfere with my sex life.

I am a complete germaphobe, I have been since I was little. I wash my hands around 20 times a day. I have a stash of antibacterial wipes and Germ-x gel, for the times when I’m no where near a sink. I avoid crowds during flu season. I was diagnosed with OCD in my mid teens, and was prescribed Zoloft. It didn’t help me at all, and I discontinued after a year or two.

I have a hard time eating something without washing my own hands. It is even harder to be physically intimate with other people, fearing that I will pick up germs. Germs that can make me sick in particular. For this reason, I have an aversion to oral sex, I have an even bigger aversion to making out. Many times I flat out refuse to make out. Giving and receiving pecks on the face or anywhere else on the body is fine and I enjoy it, but not sticking my tongue in someone’s mouth.

I hate being like this because I think it’s positive to be open-minded about various sexual practices, and I want to please whoever I’m messing around with. Has anyone had this problem? How did you cope?
posted by sixcolors to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
OCD is tough stuff to kick. I would suggest finding a therapist who specializes in OCD. Therapy is hard work but it is far more likely to be successful than the Zoloft was.
posted by metahawk at 7:37 PM on June 18, 2008

What has your therapy experience been like? Have you tried cognitive behavioral? A lot of people find it very helpful for OCD, especially if they have a specific goal in mind like you do.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:41 PM on June 18, 2008

I currently have no insurance, but I will look into it when I get some. I never had CB, I only had psychiatrists who were pill-pushers.

As for catching germs, I fear catching germs that will give me the stomach flu the most. I have a HUGE HUGE fear of vomiting. I don't really fear catching colds or anything as much. Are stomach viruses transmitted through saliva?
posted by sixcolors at 7:48 PM on June 18, 2008

In meanwhile, think creatively about what sexual activities you might enjoy and which you might tolerate if you partner liked it. Massage? Hand job? Intercourse? Would a spermicide/antibacterial gel help? Licking nipples or ear lobes?

Obviously, you would need to discuss with your partner early on the relationship but if you can find things that you both enjoy, she will be more willing to wait around while you deal with your real problem.
posted by metahawk at 7:50 PM on June 18, 2008

Going along metahawk's lines... what about sex in the shower or right after one? Oral sex through condoms or dental dams?

Find out what you're okay with, be open with your partner, and then enjoy it! Don't think about it in terms of what you can't do, think of the things you can do.
posted by Nickel at 8:01 PM on June 18, 2008

Don't worry about a psychiatrist right now. Find a therapist with a sliding scale. Aren't you a student? Most universities have free mental health clinics.
posted by desjardins at 8:16 PM on June 18, 2008

Just because Zolof didn't work doesn't mean, say, Anafril wont. Some work like a charm depending on yr own body/brain chemistry.
But equally important is some intensive CBT therapy.
Of course that's quite expensive and so not an option for all.
Re the sex thing. I suspect many people prefer 'vanilla' sex.
It's not like you have to go all out when making out.
Personally, I'd prefer kissing and laying entwined over humping and 'fucking' most days. But yeah, I empathize, it doesn't bother me, but mouths are kinda nasty compared to, say rectums.
Look at it this way, deep kissing is like getting a pleasurable inoculation.
By the way, an excellent 'self-help' self guided CBT workbook is here.
posted by dawson at 8:19 PM on June 18, 2008

..and like Nickle says, don't pressure yourself...most OCD behavior is driven by the fear that some terrible punishment will befall you if certain ritual actions or thoughts aren't carried out. It's rooted in the delusion have some special power to influence future events.... my therapist gave me the Spiderman line .."It must be a terrible responsibility to have so much power!..". Also, the more you give in to it, the worse it gets.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:22 PM on June 18, 2008

Are stomach viruses transmitted through saliva?

Yup, it's one method of transmission.

Speaking as someone who can't possibly relate...

Have you considered learning more about the human body and medicine/biology, if you spent time really learning about the human body, how virus's work, how the body reacts and strengthens itself then hopefully it might bring the context from 'evil, disgusting invaders' to somewhere closer to 'this is entirely natural'.

The human body would fail ridiculously quickly if all the external bacteria decided they've had enough of humans for a while. It's something crazy like there's more bacteria within/on you then there are cells which *are* you by a factor of *twenty*. True, viruses are something a little different, living somewhere that floats on the edge of being considered alive, but none-the-less they play a role in our lives which we'd be quite different without.

I'm not OCD, nor am I aware of how afflicted you are, so I'm probably talking out of my arse. I did have a phobia (spiders) but after getting incredibly annoyed about it, I learnt a bit about them I was much more able to tolerate them, and eventually, actually like them! (Kill the mozzys!)

Might be worth a shot?
posted by Static Vagabond at 8:37 PM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

You might want to give rimming a wide berth though.
posted by tim_in_oz at 9:15 PM on June 18, 2008

I actually have a relative with this issue -- OCD contradicting with sex drive. His solution (in addition to the therapist, etc, which is a pretty key part to making things work for him) is to date only people he thinks of as "clean." Which means, for him, no casual sex; only sex in the context of a relationship and with someone who is willing to go along with the whole showering and handwashing thing.

So by the other person doing some of the ritualistic hygiene things, they become "clean" and then all systems are operational for my relative. It's sort of like when a Catholic priest performs a ceremony -- nothing visibly changes, but after the magic is done the wafers are consecrated. If the girlfriend uses the special magic soap, and doesn't visibly violate his particular rules about 'dirty' food, and so on, the magic happens and his germ concerns are ameliorated.

I don't think this would work if his OCD wasn't largely under control with help from mental health professionals, and if he were to be demanding really weird things of his girlfriends. The practical impact of this is that he is a serial monogamist, rather than a hot-and-heavy dater, and that he basically looks for women who are low-key and adaptable, rather than high-maintenance party animals.
posted by Forktine at 9:27 PM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree wholeheartedly with Static upthead. You need to learn more about pathogens, the immune system, and health in general. Ignorance begets fear.

I don't say this to freak you out, but there are about 10 trillion bacteria (give or take an order of magnitude) living in your digestive tract right now. There are another few billion living on the surface of your skin. No matter how often you scrub, there's no way to get rid of them all. And there's certainly no way to prevent yourself from being exposed to any number of airborne bugs.

Since you can't get rid of them, you might as well get used to them, and understand them. You should take some time to read about how many bacteria are actually beneficial to you, helping you digest food. There's also evidence suggesting that regular exposure to dirt keeps the immune system healthy, primed, and ready to go.
posted by chrisamiller at 9:56 PM on June 18, 2008

While I can't add much to the concrete help offered by Forktine [above], BDSM comes to mind(?). Obviously it depends on your inclinations and geographical locale, but the BDSM scene may offer a chance to date/get intimate with someone who would not want much skin-to-skin contact.
posted by tamarack at 11:11 PM on June 18, 2008

Education or lack of it isn't what helps or hinders someone with OCD, in my experience-- it's a psychological and biological thing, and correlating it to ignorance of medical science may not be accurate.

It's possible to consciously know the medical facts of a situation-- sure, there are beneficial flora in the intestinal tract and on the skin and so on-- and irrationally reject them anyhow on a hindbrain level, thanks to OCD or a related condition. If reading up on microbiology were enough to eradicate OCD, everyone so afflicted would do it and have quit of the entire deal, because it sucks.

I have medical training-- former First Responder-- and medically-related anxieties that my training doesn't really cover, which is why I also have a therapist. My sibling has raging OCD over germs, radioactive isotopes, and other items perceived as "dirty"-- and a Ph.D in neuroscience, which required a great deal of labwork with such objects. Resolving the underlying obsessions might require meds, might require therapy, might require both.

sixcolors, this has to completely suck for you, to be both anxious about sexual contact and suffer from OCD as well. I'm with the other folks who think a therapist would be a big help for you, and I'd urge you to seek a specialist in OCD and related disorders. Good luck.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:44 PM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you're committed to putting in solid time, there's also When Panic Attacks by David Burns. (Self-administered CBT.) There is a decent amount of material on how to apply it to phobias.
posted by zeek321 at 5:19 AM on June 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

nthing what Forktine has to say about his relative with this issue.

I, too, have some OCD tendencies in this area and deal with it similarly. I have some very specific issues: teeth/mouth cleanliness is a big one... hand washing a little less... genitals... somewhere in between the two unless you combine teeth/mouth + genitals = oral sex then it's bigger than the sum of it's parts.

A major factor for me is an extremely heightened sense of smell that's not just 'all in my head'. Ugh. Germs and smelly things.

The hardest thing for ME to deal with once we've made it to that "I'm ok, you're ok" level of clean, is when the other person gets lax. "No, you don't understand... if you don't step back up to the plate... you aren't going to be sticking that thing ANYWHERE."

meMail if you want to chat, ok?
posted by Incognita at 6:52 AM on June 19, 2008

FWIW, my understanding is that there are new medications out for OCD these days- it may be worth consulting a doctor and seeing if there's something out there that will work better for you than the zoloft did.
posted by jenkinsEar at 7:00 AM on June 19, 2008

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