What is Pregnancy OCD?

 

 – by Madison Di Silvio

 

Pregnancy OCD is a subtype of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, that consists of intrusive thoughts and ritualistic behavior in an attempt to reduce the level of distress these thoughts cause. Pregnancy OCD is when the sufferer fears getting pregnant or fears that they are pregnant. Often without having penetrative sex. Pregnancy OCD can also be the fear of being unable to get pregnant but for this blog post, we will focus on the fear of being pregnant. 

 

Symptoms of Pregnancy OCD 

Symptoms of pregnancy OCD can range from intrusive thoughts to physical sensations that cause extreme distress.  An individual with this OCD subtype fears that they are pregnant or at a high risk of becoming pregnant after any real or perceived contact with semen. 

Thoughts associated with pregnancy OCD can include:

  • “What if I’m pregnant?” 
  • “What if the condom broke?” (even though you saw it didn’t) 
  • “What if my birth control fails?”
  •  “What if I don’t get my period?” 
  • “What if his sperm went through our clothes?” 
  • “What if I touched his sperm and then touched myself?” 
  • “I would be an embarrassment to my family if I’m pregnant.”
  •  “I’ll never be able to succeed in life if I am pregnant” 

 

Physical experiences associated with pregnancy OCD are based on the five senses. They involve fixation on real or imagined  symotoms such as:  

  • breast soreness
  • stomachache 
  • nausea 
  • hot flashes 
  • heightened sense of smell
  • vomiting
  • missed period
  • fatigue
  • cravings

 

Compulsions in Pregnancy OCD 

As we know, compulsions are used to create short-term relief but cause long-term problems. The more we seek relief through these compulsions the more it teaches the brain we need to do these behaviors and have these thoughts in order to feel safe.  While the sufferer may feel these compulsions are keeping them aware of whether they are pregnant or not it’s actually keeping them stuck. Due to the constant five senses component of Pregnancy OCD, intrusive thoughts/sensations are often automatically linked to compulsions. A few examples of compulsions in Pregnancy OCD are: 

  • excessive research on signs and symptoms of pregnancy 
  • constant monitoring for pregnancy symptoms 
  • taking multiple pregnancy tests “to be sure”, taking ovulation tests
  • research on birth control 
  • avoiding sexual activity
  • avoiding touching the genitals after any sexual activity where sperm was involved
  • checking condoms
  • watching for implantation bleeding
  • rumination surrounding your period
  • paying excessive attention to vaginal discharge to see where you are in your cycle
  • reassurance seeking from a partner about pregnancy
  • monitoring weight

 

Can men have pregnancy OCD? 

Yes! Men can experience pregnancy OCD, just not in the same way that those who can physically give birth can. Pregnancy OCD in men typically involves fears of their partner coming in contact with their semen, causing pregnancy.  The compulsions can be very similar such as:

  • researching statistics about pregnancy 
  • monitoring partner’s cycle
  • excessive hand washing/showers after sexual contact
  • asking their partner if they think they are pregnant
  • keeping a log of where sexual activities took place
  • avoiding sexual activities including masturbation

OCD is not limited to gender or biology. Even though pregnancy is a “women’s issue” men can have pregnancy OCD too. Men experiencing pregnancy OCD is normal but less often talked about due to the stigma that men aren’t responsible for pregnancy as well as men knowing how biology works. If a man fears pregnancy without penetrative sex he could be labeled as uneducated. Continuing these narratives just makes it harder for sufferers to speak out and get proper treatment. 

 

Treatment 

If you suspect you or someone you love is suffering from this subtype of OCD know there is effective treatment. 

  • Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP): ERP is the gold standard treatment for OCD. It involves exposing yourself to your fears and not responding with compulsions. This idea ultimately teaches your brain that your fears are not as valid as originally thought. When we start to respond differently our brain learns to fear the stimuli less without doing anything to solve it. 
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): ACT is another form of treatment for OCD in which the sufferer learns to lean more into their values and uncover how those values don’t align with their feared subtype. ACT encourages the sufferer to engage in values-based behavior to get more in touch with who they are instead of who OCD says they are. 
  • Inference-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (ICBT): ICBT is a newer approach to the US and is more of a cognitive approach to help the suffering slow down and understand the inferences they made to get them to do the compulsion. When the sufferer learns the reasoning behind why they continue to engage in compulsions it becomes easier to recognize their faulty reasoning ultimately limiting their need to do compulsive behavior.
  • Medication: SSRIs and other mental health medications prescribed by your psychiatrist or primary physician have been known to reduce the symptomology of both the physical and mental components of OCD. Research has shown when used in conjunction with therapy medication has had great effects. 

 

Seeking Mental Health Support

No matter how much OCD tries to convince you that you are alone in your thoughts this subtype like many others is more common than you’d think. It is important to seek therapy from a therapist who specializes in OCD.  Consider scheduling an appointment with Chicago Counseling Center. Our therapists can provide guidance, support, and strategies tailored to your specific needs. Meet our team to learn more!

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