What is Pedophilia OCD?



– Carolyn Moriarty, LCPC


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by the presence of obsessions and compulsions. 

  • Obsessions are thoughts, ideas or images that are unwelcome, upsetting and recurrent.
  • Compulsions are repetitive mental or behavioral rituals done to alleviate the distress caused by obsessions


Individuals will engage in repetitive mental or behavioral rituals (compulsions) that help them to feel that they are safeguarding themselves from these possibilities. These compulsions are effective in the short-term because they can immediately extinguish intense guilt, shame and anxiety. However, the relationship between obsessions and compulsions is cyclical, with one only serving to reinforce and perpetuate the other.


Common subtypes of OCD include:


What is pedophilia OCD?

Pedophilia OCD (pOCD) is a specific subtype of OCD in which individuals experience intrusive thoughts or mental images related to sexual attraction towards children. Just like all other OCD subtypes, pOCD intrusive thoughts are involuntary, unwanted, and distressing.



Is Pedophilia OCD Dangerous?



Because pedophilia is widely considered one of the most taboo topics, most people have trouble wrapping their mind around how pOCD is different than actual pedophilia.  The key distinction between someone with pOCD and an individual who identifies as a pedophile is the reaction to their thoughts.


Individuals with pOCD:

  • detest pedophilia
  • suffer from a paralyzing fear they may inadvertently cause harm to a child.
  • experience terrorizing anxiety and anguish at the mere idea of engaging in such acts.
  • are plagued with shame, guilt, and distress regarding unwanted intrusive thoughts about pedophilia.


Actual pedophiles:

  • voluntarily seek out pedophilic content and gain pleasure and sexual satisfaction from engaging with it.


Characteristics of Pedophilia OCD


Common pOCD obsessions include intrusive thoughts such as:

  • “Could I secretly be a pedophile?”
  • “What if I did something sexual to a child in the past and don’t remember, or I’m in denial?”
  • “If thoughts of a child pop into my head during sex, does that mean I find them arousing?”
  • “Am I being affectionate with my child, or am I molesting them?”
  • “If anyone knew about these thoughts, they would call the police”
  • “I saw some kids at the beach and thought they looked cute. Was I sexualizing them?”
  • “Why am I thinking these horrible thoughts? Does it mean I want to act upon them?”



Common pOCD compulsions:

People with pOCD may go to great lengths to avoid situation where they may have to interact with children.  They may also engage in the following behaviors to neutralize their distressing thoughts.

  • Mental rituals are compulsions individuals perform to gain certainty about the authenticity of their memories and level of terribleness of their actions. A person with pOCD may obsessively replay a situation to figure out if they anything about their behavior could be perceived as “inappropriate”.
    • For example: “My niece ran up to me and gave me a hug at her birthday party. Did I hug her for too long? Did my hand brush against her chest? Did I accidently molest her?”


  • Confessing is a compulsion that individuals will do to absolve some of the massive guilt they are experiencing about the incident. If they feel that they have done something truly abhorrent, getting it off their chest by confessing their “sins” may make them feel better, as uncomfortable as the process may be.  They don’t want to feel as if they got away with the horrible event.
    • For example: “I need to tell my sister that my niece ran up and hugged me tightly. I’ll have to explain that that I was so caught off guard, I don’t remember where I put my hands and I may have acted inappropriately”.


  • Reassurance-seeking is the compulsive and urgent need to know how others perceive the incident in an attempt to reach some sort of resolution. This usually involves asking the same people the same question (albeit in different ways) dozens of times.
    • For example: “My sister told me she witnessed the hug and that it was a completely normal interaction. Even so, I’ll check in with my sister after a week to see whether my niece has shown any signs of trauma since her birthday party. Maybe I should consult a child psychiatrist as well”.





Individuals with pOCD have already spent excessive amounts of time evaluating the situation from all angles and still getting nowhere. With that said, discussing and analyzing the event is not the approach want to take when treating this subtype of OCD. The most important thing to remember is that the event is not the problem, the OCD is the problem.


Treatment for pOCD usually involves:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is an evidence-based treatment strategy, is also integral in treating those with all types of OCD. This strategy works to identify commonly used thinking errors that serve to reinforce cycles of obsessions and compulsions.

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)

ERP is an evidence-based method of treatment within CBT. ERP exposes a person to a stimulus (i.e. person, person, thought or memory) that produces anxiety or discomfort. Throughout the exposure process, the individual is encouraged to actively resist engaging in their typical response to that trigger. This allows people to learn that their feelings of discomfort and doubts naturally subside on their own without them doing anything about it.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

ACT is an additional treatment modality that can be incorporated into OCD presentation. The intolerance of uncertainty is very common for people struggling with OCD, and acceptance can be an integral part of treatment by learning how to tolerate feelings and thoughts that may have once seemed unmanageable. Excessive value is often placed on thoughts that people with OCD have, as if these compulsions signify some depravity of the person. Instead of trying to fight off compulsions with rituals, ACT helps guide the person towards acceptance of thoughts and feelings as part of the experience of life. ACT works to help teach the individual that these compulsions can come and go rather than being stuck.


Medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be prescribed to help manage anxiety and obsessive thoughts.




Seeking Mental Health Support

Schedule an appointment with Chicago Counseling Center . Our therapists specialize in OCD and can develop an appropriate treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. — Meet our team to learn more!







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