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'One dead bedroom': Exploring the impact of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) on women's lived experience of sex and sexuality

Boulton, Elicia

'One dead bedroom': Exploring the impact of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) on women's lived experience of sex and sexuality Thumbnail


Elicia Boulton


Background: There is very little research, and no qualitative research, to date that has explored the lived experiences of sex and sexuality for women with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It is thought that OCD could impact on sexuality because obsessive thoughts can reflect the concerns of the wider society (Friedrich, 2015) and society is saturated with information about sex and sexuality (Barker & Hancock, 2017). This research highlights the many ways in which OCD experiences result in significant distress for women in relation to sex and sexuality. Without an evidence base around women's experiences in this area to inform interventions, it is difficult to know how therapy can best help women with OCD. The study also supports the fulfillment of sexual rights for this group of women, such as the right to pleasurable and consensual sex (The World Association for Sexual Health, 2014).

Aims: This study begins the investigation of experiences of sex and sexuality for women with OCD by listening to women’s voices and exploring how women manage the impact of OCD on their sexual identity and practices, as well as exploring their experiences of seeking support from mental health professionals for related difficulties. I focus on women because of the well-documented gendered nature of sex and sexuality (e.g. Braun, Gavey, & McPhillips, 2003; Farvid & Braun, 2006; Morgan & Davis-Delano, 2016; Nicolson & Burr, 2003), which means that women with OCD navigate their sexual experiences and identities in a heteronormative world that privileges, and encourages women to prioritise, men’s sexual desires and needs.

Method: The experiences of women aged 18 and older who had received a diagnosis of OCD or who had sought treatment for OCD were gathered using an online qualitative survey. An online survey afforded participants a high level of felt anonymity and a degree of control over their participation; this was important given the sensitive nature of the topic. One hundred and thirty-four women completed the survey. One Skype interview was also undertaken at the request of the participant. The data was analysed using experiential thematic analysis, informed by critical feminist theory on sex and sexuality.

Findings: Four themes were developed: ‘OCD as fake news’; ‘OCD as sex killjoy’; ‘What is normal sex?’; and ‘To share or not to share?’. It was difficult at times for many participants to differentiate between OCD intrusive thoughts and ‘normal’ thoughts. This resulted in some women putting themselves into sexual situations in which they were potentially vulnerable to abuse. The women managed their intrusive thoughts and compulsions around sex and sexuality through avoidance of sex and felt that women without OCD experienced more frequent and better, more pleasurable sex than they did. Women who reported talking about sex with their therapist stated that they experienced judgements about their sexuality, sexist advice and well meant, but ultimately unhelpful, therapeutic interventions.

Conclusion: Counselling psychologists and other therapists require further training around sex and sexuality, particularly training informed by critical feminist literature. Such training will ensure that when therapists work with women with OCD, they will feel confident talking openly about sex and will be able to empower women to have consensual and pleasurable sex that ‘works’ for them.


Boulton, E. 'One dead bedroom': Exploring the impact of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) on women's lived experience of sex and sexuality. (Thesis). University of the West of England. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Aug 5, 2019
Publicly Available Date Apr 2, 2020
Public URL


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