My Germaphobia Makes Everything Harder, Especially Sex

It’s normal and healthy to be wary of germs, but when it’s so extreme that it interferes with your everyday life, that’s when it’s classified as germaphobia. Here’s what it is and what it’s like to experience it from someone who does daily.

  1. Germaphobia is closely related to OCD. Germaphobia is often a symptom of OCD, and about one-third of OCD suffers experience some form of it. According to psychlopaedia.org, it’s defined as an extreme fear of “germs, bacteria, microbes, contamination, and infection.” In my case, it’s mostly a fear of germs and chemical contamination.
  2. Sufferers exhibit obsessive behaviors. They often practice obsessive hand-washing and other cleaning rituals. They’ll also avoid any social situation that could potentially risk catching illnesses. Some people have other triggers too such as chemicals, bodily fluids, radioactivity, and asbestos. Most of these things apply to me, and I’m actually very aware that it’s weird; I just can’t help it and I certainly can’t stop it.
  3. It has genetic and psychological causes. If there’s a family history of anxiety or OCD, or if a person is raised being taught to constantly worry about germs or wash excessively, then that person is more likely to develop germaphobia. Also, feeling overly responsible for preventing harm (like with your children, for instance) can also make someone more likely to develop the condition. I have a family history of anxiety and I have kids, so it makes sense.
  4. My germaphobia was probably caused by a couple of triggers. I haven’t always been so germaphobic. It started really affecting my day-to-day life a few years ago when I had kids. I had postpartum anxiety and an intense fear of my children getting hurt or deathly ill. It made me obsessive about making sure myself and my kids didn’t come into contact with chemicals in particular (cancer-causing agents, for example). I’ve never been as worried about normal illnesses because they’re necessary and rarely life-threatening, whereas chemicals can have more long-term, invisible effects. According to my doctor and therapist, having anxiety combined with becoming a parent was to blame for the escalation of my behavior.
  5. I used to work in a biology lab, which made my germaphobia even worse. I used to be a biologist and often worked with things that could mutate DNA and potentially cause cancer, including radioactive materials in small quantities. Although lab practices are extremely safe and there’s almost no chance of anything bad happening, I was still obsessively worried that I or my baby might be affected somehow. These things are invisible and there’s no way of knowing if the harmful substances are on you. It’s one thing to be cautious, but it’s another to be unnecessarily paranoid like I was.
  6. I started doing really weird things because I was so afraid of work substances. I’d get home from work and immediately strip and wash all my clothes, then shower before touching anything else. Then I’d try to clean anything I may have touched. I even put a towel on the driver’s seat of my car and washed that too so that nothing would get on my car from work. It’s embarrassing to admit because I know it’s crazy.
  7. I’ve exhibited many other bizarre behaviors too. For example, I’m afraid of the asbestos in the siding on my house. Even though it’s nothing to worry about unless inhaled, I’m still paranoid about even touching the siding. Also, I wash my hands a million times a day so I won’t get myself or my kids sick. And no one can come into my house with their shoes on because I worry about what they’re tracking in. If they don’t remove their shoes, I can’t think about anything else until they’re gone.
  8. It also affects my sex life, unfortunately. I won’t let my husband into bed unless he showers first because I’m scared of what he might come into contact with at work. He has a dirty job and in my mind, he could unknowingly have harmful substances on him. I’m also so afraid of bacteria in poop that touching each other close to that area makes me shut down because I get grossed out. And as for anal sex, forget about it. It’s never going to happen because of my germaphobia. I know that we’re clean people and there’s nothing to worry about, but I still freak out, which prevents me from being relaxed and enjoying sex sometimes.
  9. It got better when I started treating my anxiety and quit my job. When I finally started seeing a therapist and went on anxiety medication last year, things got better. I’m not usually one who likes to take pills, but the difference it made was worth it. I function much better. I also quit my job, not because I had germaphobia but because daycare is too expensive. It just so happened to be a good thing for my mental state too because it removed a huge trigger for me.
  10. There are other treatment options available. Besides anxiety medication, another treatment for phobias like mine is cognitive behavioral therapy, which involves being exposed to triggers and delaying the response of the ritual (i.e. delay washing your hands, for example). You then gradually increase the delay time, which results in recovery. I guess that’s my next step if things get any worse because yikes, I have issues.
  11. I’m managing it better now. I’ve improved, but I still have obsessive tendencies because of my germaphobia. My husband is thankfully used to it and I hide it pretty well from everyone else. It’s not so bad though, and I’m not unhappy. After all, my problems could be so much worse!
Kelli loves to write about lots of different topics, especially relationships, parenting, health, and fitness. She is excited to share her experiences!
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