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Keywords:

  • adolescents;
  • children;
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder;
  • risk;
  • sexual obsessions

Background

Sexual obsessions are common in adults with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), cause great distress, and are sometimes misinterpreted as indicating risk to others. Little is known about the prevalence, clinical correlates, and prognosis of such symptoms in young people.

Methods

Three hundred and eighty-three patients referred to a specialist pediatric OCD clinic were administered a series of measures at intake and, for those treated at the clinic, again after treatment. Patients with and without sexual obsessions were compared on socio-demographic and clinical characteristics. Mixed model analyses of variance compared treatment outcomes in both groups.

Results

A quarter of patients had sexual obsessions at baseline (age range 8–17); they had slightly more severe OCD symptoms and were more depressed than those without sexual obsessions. Aggressive and religious obsessions, magical thinking, fear of saying certain things, repeating rituals, superstitious games, mental rituals, and the need to tell, ask, or confess were more frequent in participants with sexual obsessions. Crucially, no differences in treatment outcome were found between the groups.

Conclusions

Sexual obsessions are common in pediatric OCD, even in very young children. Although they may be associated with particular clinical features, they do not interfere with treatment response. The occurrence of sexual obsessions in children should be recognized and these symptoms understood as ordinary, nonthreatening OCD symptoms, which pose no risk to others. They respond to the standard treatment strategies, so children and families should receive the usual message of optimism regarding the chances of recovery.