I’m Afraid of Becoming a Lesbian

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Reader’s Question

I had my first “OCD” attack when I was 10 or 11 years old. I had the constant fear that I might be, or might in the future turn into, a lesbian. I was terrified by the idea, and I desperately wanted to continue liking males (as far as this goes when you’re 11).

However, those thoughts disappeared, and haven’t been present for a long time. I am now 17, and I had completely forgotten about them and about that childish period. I have fallen in love once or twice; I have a boyfriend whom I love to bits; and I’ve had sex and enjoyed it a lot.

It all started with some pot. We smoked and, at first, everything seemed so funny; I was laughing like crazy. But then, everything changed. I started getting panic attacks and images of myself in a hospital. I remember feeling sure that that was what people feel when they die. I started walking around and drinking tons of water, and every second, I was sure I was going to pass out.

On my way home, I was still afraid of dying, and a bit paranoid. So, when I was home, I started googling things like “marijuana depression”, “marijuana bad experience” and so on. I eventually found an article about the connection between pot and schizophrenia, and I literally freaked out. For the next couple of days I had constant panic attacks, because I thought I was going insane. I wasn’t able to listen to people, or concentrate. I kept hugging my boyfriend and crying, because it felt so hopeless.

A few days later, the panic attacks stopped. I was still a bit anxious, and I was getting unpleasant feelings when I thought of mental illness and schizophrenia. I still thought I might be crazy, but it didn’t cause me such a great amount of anxiety.

However, a few days later, I remembered that period of doubt and fear when I was 10. My mind made an instant connection and I started thinking, “Oh, my God, I was thinking those things back then; that certainly means I’ve been a lesbian for all this time. I want to keep liking boys,” and “I should’ve never smoked pot. I’ll never be normal again.”

Of course, I am not lesbian and I know it, at least most of the time. But until now, I still panic over the idea of not liking boys anymore and switching to girls. My “OCD” starts putting questions in my head, such as, “What if you are? What if you have been in the closet for so long?” As I’m typing this, I still feel a moderate level of anxiety.

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My questions are — is this OCD, and what should I do?

Psychologist’s Reply

People with OCD have either obsessions or compulsions that cause significant distress and interference in their daily functioning. Obsessions are defined by intrusive and persistent thoughts that are not simply excessive worries about real-life problems. People suffering from OCD attempt to ignore or suppress such thoughts, and they recognize that the obsessional thoughts are a product of their own mind. Compulsions are defined as repetitive behaviors (like hand washing) or mental acts (like counting) that the person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession. These behaviors or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing distress, and are not connected in a realistic way with what they are designed to neutralize.

Based on this description of OCD and the account of your situation, it could be that you have experienced an obsession but not compulsions. Moreover, this obsession doesn’t seem to occur regularly, and it is usually centered around the fear of being a lesbian. As such, I doubt that a formal diagnosis would fit for you.

It sounds like you had a bad experience with smoking marijuana. While that may not be common enough to have a google entry for it (or people just don’t want to admit to it), it does happen. People can be very sensitive to a lot of things — medications, drugs, herbs, foods — and have bad reactions to them. Since you didn’t mention having continued hallucinations, delusions or disorganized behavior, I kind of doubt you triggered schizophrenia in the process. From what you mentioned, it sounds like you succeeded in scaring yourself silly. Perhaps marijuana is not for you.

As for the fear of being a lesbian, there are a few things to consider. First and most importantly, if you are a lesbian or even if you are sexually attracted to both women and men, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I realize that there are various cultural and religious prohibitions against homosexuality, but from a biological and psychological perspective, there is nothing abnormal about it. Homosexuality occurs in the animal world and, with at least 10% of the human population reporting that they are homosexual, it is not uncommon.

Second, most people who are lesbian seem aware of it at a young age. You did not mention feeling attracted to women consistently. While there are some women who choose to be with women sexually, in general, lesbians are born, not made. Consequently, although I cannot say for certain, it sounds like you are again scaring yourself with something that may not be true.

However, even if you are a lesbian, you can still choose with whom you want to partner. If you have a boyfriend you love and with whom you have enjoyable sex, you can still choose to be with him. I know many self-identified lesbians who are partnered with men. You can do the same.

The short answer to your question is that I doubt you have full-blown OCD but it does seem that you have some anxiety. Working with a good counselor may assist you in dealing with it so that you do not have to be miserable.

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