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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

OCD and Physical Intimacy

     So...I'm going to tackle some thoughts on a taboo subject here on the Internet.  At least, it seems that way for me.  I have struggled with this problem for years and I've done countless internet searches which yield not a lot of information.  Usually, I'm directed to my own blog--ha, ha!  But, it's not really a joke.  Considering the amount of people in this world that struggle with OCD, I know that issues with physical intimacy and all that brings, can create a lot of problems for us.
     When I look back at my life pre-OCD, things just didn't bother me.  I could hold someone's hand without wondering what countless contamination they had been in contact with all day.  I could kiss someone without worrying what contamination/germs were infesting their mouths.  I could have a normal, healthy sexual relationship with my husband without worrying about the many thoughts that would plague my mind in my life with OCD now.  But that is just the thing with OCD in general.  We give way too much thought and attention to things that most people don't even consider.  And it's not that we want to give it that attention.  We desperately don't want to think those things.  But that is the obsessive nature of the disorder.  Dwelling on things, worrying...until we come up with special routines/compulsions to work our way around the anxiety...sometimes even avoiding activities completely because otherwise it just becomes too much to deal with.
     Even when I first started developing OCD, about 12 years ago now, I don't remember having sexual issues initially.  Most of my stuff was targeted around "magical thinking", but I was in the beginning stages of contamination OCD (and just starting out with some germ fixations and handwashing compulsions).  OCD has a way of morphing through the years, however.  I've visited this in previous blog posts, but it's worth mentioning again because I feel there were a couple of defining moments early on with my issues with my husband and intimacy.  When I first started with OCD I was going through a very stressful period in life.  We were having some serious marriage issues, and I was going through a lot of depression/generalized anxiety and some other health issues.  I was having some panic attacks and was simultaneously dealing with some potential food allergy problems that manifested later in life.  I tested positive for a walnut allergy.  Now to be honest, I haven't eaten a lot of walnuts in my life, and there is a chance this could have been a false positive test.  But, OCD does not see things that way.  My OCD mind convinced me I was allergic to walnuts and that if I came into contact with not only walnuts but peanuts or any other form of nut--that I would have an allergic reaction.  And jumping to worst case scenario, my OCD convinced me I would have a life threatening anaphylactic reaction.  Part of the problem was that I ate a Snickers cheesecake slice one night before I had a panic attack, so this wasn't something that my mind just conjured up one day.  There was a definite "I ate nuts and I had shortness of breath, difficulty breathing following"....(although that was later found to be a panic attack).  Obviously an anaphylactic reaction doesn't just resolve on it's own.  After this walnut allergy finding, my mind became fixated on something bad happening to me if I came into contact with with any type of nut.  Suddenly I didn't want to kiss my  husband anymore.  He ate a lot of nuts (still does to this day), and there was certainly a huge risk there for me.  I started inspecting his pants pockets when he came home, for evidence of granola bar wrappers (which were the usual culprit).  I would flat out start asking him every night before bed if he ate nuts that day.  I was scared out of my mind.  But of course he couldn't see that it was anxiety.  He was just very irritated for answering the same question every night.  Maybe part of me was mad at him.  Mad that he didn't stop eating nuts.  Mad that he cared so little about my health that he didn't make a simple change in his diet.  Mad that he couldn't see how anxious this all made me.  But it put a huge dent in our relationship, one of the first in a big series of events.  No matter how small or trivial this seemed, I am certain this played a big part in the downfall of our physical intimacy.  I eventually got to the point where I was so tired of asking him every day, and getting those snarky responses that I decided I wasn't going to kiss him anymore.  I simply wasn't going to take the risk. 
     Even before the nut allergy issues, there were other things about kissing that bothered me as well.  Mouths are just gross, to be honest.  People put objects in their mouths-pens, keys, etc.  They put fingers in their mouths.  They eat without washing their hands.  Not to mention viruses and illnesses that can be transferred through saliva.  It is just too much to think about sometimes.  And that is the sad thing about having OCD...we are going to think these thoughts no matter what.  We will fixate on these things, because that is how our brains work.  So, as far as the just seems gross to me.  I can truly tell you that I can't remember the last time I kissed my husband.  Even a peck on the cheeks or lips.  It has been years and years.  My best guess is probably 7-8 years ago.
     But moving on to other things...what about sex itself?  Sorry to be so blunt, but I think this issue could stand to be discussed.  I've tried for years to discuss this with my own husband to try to find a solution, and I can't even get my own spouse to talk about it with me.  For a little background information, our sex life has been non-existent for 4 1/2 years now.  But I will be honest with you, it's not because I'm not willing to try.  It's because my husband is so convinced that there is no way it would work with my contamination OCD, that now he just avoids the conversations.  There is a back story with the sex problems too, just like with the kissing.  I've also discussed this in previous blog posts, so bear with me.  We went through a period of infertility after we had our first child.  We tried for several years to get pregnant, and had one miscarriage during that time.  No successful pregnancies.  Infertility, if you've dealt with that, is already very stressful.  Nothing is more awkward with sex than when you have to plan out when you're going to have it.  Oftentimes falling on nights where you don't really want to do it, and you just end up going through the motions after awhile, hoping that it will work this time.  It was during this trying to conceive phase that my husband developed a hobby of working on cars/machines.  He was doing a lot of very mechanical stuff, spray painting cars and working with a lot of grease/chemicals.  Just imagine "mechanic hands".  They aren't very appealing or comfortable for someone with contamination OCD.  To imagine those hands on your body.  I remember one afternoon he was painting stuff in our own backyard and he came in the house with his hands covered in green spray praint.  Also the fronts of his jeans were plastered with the green spray paint.  He didn't stop at the sink to wash the paint off his hands.  He just came in the house, went directly back to the shower, and there ya OCD was triggered big time again.  All I could imagine at that point was his entire body being contaminated with the spray paint/chemicals.  His green hands contaminating every inch of his body as he showered.  Thus entered in sexual problems.  How do you have sex with someone when you feel they are contaminated?  His hands always felt contaminated to me, as he was inevitably always working on a project.  I could see dirt/grime underneath all of his fingernails.  I had several ways of helping to reassure myself at this time, but all it did was just tear us further apart.  These are the strange lengths I went to:  at first it was just showering/washing hands before intimacy, then at some point I "inspected" his hands before he was allowed to touch me, I eventually had us shower together and I would wash off his genitals (how awkward is that?!) so that they didn't feel contaminated to me.  The act of having sex became so ritualized beforehand, that there was no spontaneity or fun or anything romantic or normal about it at all.  It was the most dysfunctional process.  And even after we had sex, I would go in the bathroom and scrub at my own genitals trying to remove any trace of his bodily fluids.  And I have a deep sense of guilt, shame and embarassment about all of that.  But truth be told, I wasn't trying to be difficult.  It was my OCD telling me that I had to remove every trace of possible contamination or I couldn't even be comfortable.  That is what OCD compulsions are trying to make you comfortable, and give you that reassurance you so desperately need.  After it became clear that we were done trying to conceive again, that took some pressure off and at least a condom was an easy solution for the "dirty genitals".  But our sex life was basically killed off.  Eventually, it just stopped.  I got into the worst of my OCD at that time with clothing sheets, bedding and all sorts of things that I never even imaged at the beginning of my OCD would be a problem, were then an issue.  There is a lot more to the story, but I'm trying to keep this short (and not doing a good job with that obviously). 
     For a little over a year now, I've been trying to approach the conversation about sex with my  husband.  As much as it does make uncomfortable, I feel I've come up with a way that this can work.  He's been avoiding the conversations though, just stating that he doesn't see a way that it can happen.  I think it we can find a way to bring sex back into our relationship, that is a big step for us.  I think it is a way for us to connect and to try to brings some intimacy back into our marriage.  I've told him this before too, and as awkward as it seems--I think it would be easier for me to be around him naked, than clothed.  I am so worried about my clothes becoming contaminated, so if we're naked I don't need to worry about that.  I've got a plan set for the bed and showers beforehand.  But no, I'm not going to wash his genitals this time.  And I think my plan is fairly reasonable, considering I'm trying to go out a limb and make this happen.  This a big exposure.  But I can't do it without him,  obviously. 
    Just to summarize about the whole intimacy thing in general.  It's really tough.  I look around and I see people holding hands all the time.  I see people kissing.  It's natural.  I think about all of the kissing and sex that goes on in the world and most people are just fine.  Most people don't see it as a danger.  They see it as a very healthy, satisfying part of their relationship.  And that is how I used to see things.  I wouldn't think twice about a kiss, even after I just ate something.  I know that I had sex without washing hands, and did some very unsanitary things looking back.  But now my mindset has changed, and I see the unsanitary factor in all of it.  I think about the dirty mouth, the unbrushed teeth, the exchange of body fluids, the unshowered skin, and the very dirty hands that are all over each other.  And it's too much for me.  I know it's too much for a lot of you too.  Several of you have commented in many of my blog posts how much these things bother you.  So, I know we're not alone.  I've talked to many others who have also gone years without having sex with their spouse.  Who cringe at the thought of their spouse touching them.  But then I've also connected with others who say that their sex life is not affected by their OCD.  They are still able to completely be able to be with their spouse that way, and not bothered in the least.  It's interesting what our OCD dictates for us individually.  But this is a topic I think is worth exploring.  At least if one other person reads this and knows they are not suffering alone, then it was worth writing all of this. 
     I've tried to think this through from all kinds of angles.  Is it possible to have a romantic relationship with someone, when you really truly don't think you will ever be able to get past this part of your OCD?  Is it reasonable for your spouse to expect some degree of ritualized behavior before sex, in order to at least get that part of your relationship back?  I would love to know how you deal with this.  Please, please don't tell me to seek professional help.  I already know that is out there and an option.  But if you have had this problem and benefited from professional help, I would love to hear your story.  I'm mostly just curious how others have dealt with this.
     Thanks for reading, if you made it to the end!  It's such a horrible topic to explore.  For those of us with OCD, we know it all too well.  For non-OCD sufferers, it's something they will never have to imagine.  We live in silent suffering, those of us with OCD.  Here's to hoping that all of you are doing well!  I will post soon about my progress in general and where I'm at with everything.  Just had this topic heavy on my mind lately!