Just last night I noted how the Christofascists hysteria over gays and gay rights strikes me as a form of mental illness. Then this morning I came across an article that would seem to explain the behavior of folks like Rick Santorum, Ken Cuccinelli, Tony Perkins, and much of the Catholic Church hierarchy: Sexual Orientation Obsession Disorder. In short, we may be seeing something more than plain old homophobia at work. What is Sexual Orientation Obsession Disorder? It is an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) that revolves around the fear of being—or being perceived as—gay. How does one convince himself/herself that they are not really gay? By being as stridently anti-gay as possible, although in the cases of Rick Santorum and Ken Cuccinelli,my personal bet is that they ARE gay and struggle because they cannot let go of the psychological damage they suffered being raised Catholic, something I know about first hand. A piece in The Daily Beast looks at a new study (subscription required) that looks at Sexual Orientation Obsession Disorder. Here are highlights:
“Simon” is not gay but he used to spend several hours a day worrying that he might be. His fear of being gay led him to avoid physical contact with other men at work, where he dodged one-on-one meetings with men, and at home, where he avoided attending his children’s sporting events so that he wouldn’t have to interact with coaches and dads.
Simon suffered from a sexual orientation obsession, a fairly common but under-examined manifestation of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) that revolves around the fear of being—or being perceived as—gay.
Simon’s case study is the focus of a 2011 article co-authored by Dr. Monnica T. Williams, a clinical psychologist and the leading expert on sexual orientation-themed OCD (SO-OCD). In a new study published in the April issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior, Dr. Williams sheds even more light on this confusing and often debilitating mental disorder.
For Dr. Williams, SO-OCD presents a unique clinical challenge because it can easily be mistaken for internalized homophobia, in which someone who is actually lesbian, gay, or bisexual suffers personal and social anxiety over his or her sexual orientation. Those who suffer from SO-OCD, by contrast, do not take pleasure in homosexual thoughts but nonetheless have an obsessive need to reassure themselves that they do not find them pleasurable.
These reassurances can take the form of time-consuming “checking” rituals that SO-OCD sufferers use to verify their true sexual orientation. In Dr. Williams’s clinical experience, these rituals include mentally picturing homosexual acts and checking for sexual stimulation, asking a loved one to verbally verify one’s heterosexuality, or looking at homosexual imagery to ensure that it does not induce arousal.
Some male sufferers of SO-OCD may even be so hounded by obsessive thoughts that they become “desperate to find out if they would enjoy a homosexual experience,” causing them to seek out unwanted—and ultimately upsetting—same-sex encounters.
Those who experience internalized homophobia or other forms of anxiety over being lesbian, gay, or bisexual, on the other hand, would not experience the activities in these rituals as inherently distressing. In her practice, for instance, Dr. Williams once encountered a middle-aged man who was concerned he might have SO-OCD due to “ongoing doubts about whether he should leave his wife and move to Miami to start a new life as an openly gay man.”
[A]s Dr. Williams and her co-authors point out, an individual with SO-OCD “may or may not have negative feelings toward LGBT individuals” on a sociopolitical or interpersonal level.
SO-OCD is a mental disorder, not a pathological form of bigotry. SO-OCD sufferers have a lot more in common with Jack Nicholson avoiding cracks in the sidewalk in As Good as It Gets than they do with the Westboro Baptist Church. SO-OCD also occurs with surprising frequency given how scant the research is on the subject.
For those who receive treatment, however, this distress can be alleviated using proven therapeutic techniques. As Dr. Williams notes in her team’s 2011 study of Simon, treatment for SO-OCD “follows the same structure as any other form of OCD”: expose the patient to his or her fears and interrupt the rituals that accompany them.
[F]or Simon, it alleviated his symptoms by allowing him to unmask and dismiss his fears. His depression cleared away and his quality of life score rose dramatically post-treatment. But Simon’s success story aside, Dr. Williams and her co-authors remain concerned that the larger population of SO-OCD sufferers do not have access to this knowledge or these treatments.
For a potentially debilitating form of mental illness that can so easily be confused with internalized homophobia or outright bigotry, some clarity does seem to be in order.
It is nice to know that I was perhaps correct when I call out some of the GOP politicians and "family values" group leaders as crazy - they are mentally ill.