Question: Does having intrusive thoughts about children make me an abuser?

Intrusive thoughts are not things we actually want to do. If you do not actively want to sexually act on children and don’t experience sexual attraction to children. Intrusive thoughts are a mental health issue that are upsetting, other thoughts like murder, driving the car off the road, or other forms of sexual violence happen for others with intrusive thoughts, and most people with OCD have violent thoughts aren’t automatically violent people. 

Thoughts, memories and flashbacks about sexual abuse can all cause feelings of sexual arousal. This is linked to the fact that abuse can link and connect the act of child abuse and sexual violence to sexual arousal and pleasure. It can act the same way that one will experience feelings of arousal during sexual abuse even to the point of orgasm. None of that means someone wanted to be abused, it can be the same with intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts can also trigger body memories which can include sexual arousal. 

Pedophilic Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (POCD) is a condition that is often associated with trauma that causes intrusive thoughts around children. Here is a definition of this 

“Although all the many ways that obsessive-compulsive fears manifest themselves can cause debilitating anguish, perhaps there is none that causes more distress than OCD with paedophile obsessions, sometimes called POCD. This form of OCD involves the fear of harming and/or molesting a child. People may wonder what causes OCD to take this form. OCD has a tendency to latch onto things that are important to a person.” 

Louisville OCD Clinic

Being a CSA survivor/victim makes children and sexual violence is deeply important to that person. Having POCD does not make someone a bad person nor is it synonymous with being a paedophile. Paedophilia is true arousal linked to children. The paedophilic disorder is a paraphilic disorder separate from OCD class and Trauma class disorders, and to the individuals aren’t the same. 

Then there are those who experience sexual arousal and abuse children with no distress and therefore aren’t considered mentally ill. They are simply abusers. 

The important thing is learning to cope with intrusive thoughts and any compulsive behaviour. As long as you do not engage in child abuse (including interacting with child pornography that is abuse) then you’re not an abuser. Abusers are those who harm children and are wrong for doing so, struggling with intrusive thoughts is not the same. Here is some advice on dealing with intrusive thoughts which can help. 

Keeping yourself away from children isn’t something that will stop these distresses. It can become harmful to this when if it is compulsive. Reaching out to someone who can help you come up with better coping methods would be really good! They can also help find reasons and see if other methods can help. It will also allow be helpful with other struggles you have. 

If possible you can also reach out to a trauma-informed therapist. Cognitive therapies, somatic therapies, talk therapies, brain spotting, EMDR and other therapies can all be helpful in combination to heal trauma along with reducing distress and occurrences of intrusive thoughts.

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