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Exploring Normative Regulations of Sexual Intrusive Thoughts via (Virtual) Ethnographic Approaches a

My PhD research lies at the intersection of sociolinguistics (esp. queer linguistics) and health communication. More specifically, I use corpus-assisted (critical) discourse analysis and virtual ethnography to analyze how people who suffer from sexuality and relationship-themed Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) use language online to make sense of their mental health, and how they linguistically orient to normative ideas of gender and sexuality to construct their identity.

Affecting up to 2% of the general population (Ruscio et al. 2010), OCD is characterized by the presence of obsessions about specific themes that are nourished by a never-ending doubt. This doubt generates anxiety, which leads the affected person to look for certainty through repetitive compulsive acts. Although the anxiety diminishes for a short time, it strikes back after a while in stronger proportions with the doubt leading sufferers to enact other compulsions. While the media perpetuates stereotypical understandings of OCD as being an urge for cleanliness, symmetry and perfection (e.g. the TV-Shows Friends, Monk, or The Big Bang Theory, see list of videos below), OCD is a heterogeneous disorder that is also shaped by other anxiety-provoking themes, such as hoarding, harm, and forbidden/taboo thoughts, which include intrusive thoughts related to sexuality and gender (American Psychiatric Association 2013).

These sexual intrusive thoughts (SITs) can be about any taboo forms of sexuality (e.g. incest, paedophilia, zoophilia, necrophilia, etc.) or one’s gender/sexual identity (Gordon 2002), where affected people pathologically fear the possibility to become homosexual (Williams 2008), heterosexual (Goldberg 1984), or transgender (Safer et al. 2016), depending on one’s own personal identification. Ignoring that (unlike sexual fantasies) sexual obsessions are unpleasant and upsetting, therapists are also likely to misdiagnose them as symptomatic of pedophilia, gender dysphoria, or internalized homophobia (Glazier et al. 2013).

While the majority of OCD research reflects a dominant biomedical paradigm that favors quantitative approaches, little qualitative research has been carried on the social realities of OCD sufferers. Considering that people use language to make sense of their mental health experiences (e.g. Harvey & Koteyko 2013), and that language also reflects social regulations of gender and sexuality (e.g. Cameron & Kulick 2003), no studies have explored how normative beliefs about gender and sexuality interact with SITs. My project aims to fill this gap.

I wish to build a long-lasting, anglophone online forum in order to assemble a community of affected people (hopefully more than 100). Then, I will use ethnographic approaches to examine how they orient to normativity (Motschenbacher & Stegu 2013), and use corpus-assisted discourse approaches (e.g. Hunt and Harvey 2015) to explore – through a specialized corpus of expectedly 250’000 words – how micro-linguistic details reflect macro-level normativities in participants’ discussions. It will be insightful to compare the discourses of different SITs themes, and even to parallel the results to a similar study that explored how straight men suffering from Sexual Orientation OCD orient to heteronormativity (Gomes and Motschenbacher in press).

If you know somebody who experiences SITs and would be interested to participate, please contact me Igala will publish the link to the forum once available.




Links to videos



The Big Bang Theory:

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