HOCD and feel aroused – why does this happen?

Dr Elaine Ryan
Written by Dr Elaine Ryan Psychologist and Founder of MoodSmith® Elaine obtained her Dr in Psychology from the University of Surrey and has worked in psychology for 20 years. Dr Ryan specialises in Intrusive Thoughts, OCD and anxiety-related conditions.

If you have HOCD and are feeling aroused, this does not evidence that your thoughts are true; it is just the nature of HOCD.

Feeling aroused down there – in your groin.

For men, this can be just a feeling or having an erection.  For women, this can be feeling sexually aroused.  You might also get sexualised thoughts and images relating to the same sex.

Why do I feel aroused?

It’s not too difficult to trigger a sexual response in any of us.  In this respect, we are quite primitive.

Forget HOCD for a moment, and let’s talk about sexual desire generally.  Like most other things that happen to you, sex occurs in the brain first!  

I mean that it is largely an unconscious process; it is just something that happens to you without much knowledge on your part.

First, something has to spark your interest – remember we are talking about sex generally here.  This can be visual – where you see something, or in your mind, when you think about something or an image pops into your head.  Your hearing could also be involved if you heard someone having sex.


Then your brain has to do something else with this new information coming in.  Your amygdala comes into play.  The amygdala does different things, which you don’t need to know about at the moment.  For now, think that it has a role in deciding whether this new information coming into your brain deserves a physical response or not.

Point to note before I go on; your amygdala doesn’t really care what this new information is.  It is not a moral gatekeeper to decide what you should or should not get aroused over!

You might find it helpful to think that inside you right now are a series of networks, connections and pathways.  Things are getting triggered right now to allow you to read these words I am writing – does that make sense?  And if you lean back in your chair to cock your head to the side to think about it (as I have just done), that’s another set of messages in my (or your) network helping you to do this.

Back to what I was talking to you about.  If the amygdala decides this is something that deserves a response (and again, it is not really a thought process, keeps with the networks and triggers example), it sets into play a series of events that ultimately end up with physical sensations in your groin.

That makes sense (to me anyway) when I think that sex is pretty important to any species survival, and you won’t bother stopping what you are doing, looking for a private place, getting undressed etc., unless you are highly motivated to do so, hence the feeling in your groin!

I have given an extremely basic overview, but the point I want you to think about is that for the response to happen in your groin, it is not the result of some moral code; it is something that occurs in a split second in your brain that is outside of your control.  If it were in your control, you would never feel sexually aroused in inappropriate places!

HOCD and feeling aroused.

So why does this sexual response get triggered by members of the same sex when you have been heterosexual all your life?

I’m going to have to really on your memory here, and let me start by saying that your memory is hugely unreliable!  My Master’s degree was looking at memory, and trust me, your memories are not stored away in a fault-free filing cabinet in your brain!

Think back to when this all started happening to you.  It could have been something innocent, such as noticing that guy or girl is quite attractive.  It could have been your friends teasing you that you are gay.  You could have noticed a glimmer of arousal while there was someone of the same sex.  There are too many scenarios to mention, but here’s the important bit.  Your brain, your thinking brain, came into play.

You might have started to question your sexuality; maybe you started to ‘do’ things to check it out for yourself, such as looking at members of the opposite sex to see if you could feel anything down there.  This is where you start to run into trouble.

Remember how I said above that the processes involved in your brain are not some moral gatekeeper?  It’s just a series of connections and triggers.  

This is an elementary example, so apologies to the neuroscientists!  When new information comes into your brain, it does a quick scan to see if it can match it up with something to decide what to do with it.  Think late at night, you’re alone in a dark alleyway, and you see a huge shadow coming toward you.

Your brain quickly matches this with something that might hurt you and gives you the response that makes you feel stressed and scared to help you run away.  It is only later that you see the culprit is a kitten, but you already have the stress response by this time.  I hope you see what I am getting at!  This quick matching process is not accurate.  But it is quick.  It is only later that you can decide, using your rational thinking brain, how accurate this matching process has been, but by that time, you already are feeling the physical effects.

So.  New information such as looking at someone of the same sex and then focusing your attention on your groin to see if you feel something, are you aroused?  You are almost asking for a sexual response, except you are not doing it on purpose.

Or if you find that you watch gay porn to see if you are really gay.  You get aroused, as your brain quickly decides, yep, this is worth the amygdala making an effort to start the sexual desire response as it is close enough to the things that they liked in the past.  You get aroused.

Further reading:

Recap

Sexual arousal is not proof that you are gay; it just means that your brain has given you a sexualised response that is largely out of your control.

The more ‘checking out’ things you do, such as checking that you are not feeling aroused, only strengthens this response in your brain, but it does not mean that you are gay.

It means you got unconscious arousal, and your thinking rational brain made the wrong assumptions, and it is these assumptions that are now problematic for you.

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