Friday Factoid: What is “Pure O” OCD and Does it Exist?

Rebecca Girlinghouse, MA

WKPIC Doctoral Intern


There are many misconceptions about OCD and what it entails, exactly.  One misconception is that an individual must have obsessions and visible compulsions in order to meet criteria.  However, this is inaccurate, and has left many individuals whom experience obsessions without visible compulsions feeling stuck and scared.  I have had several clients disclose to me that they believed their obsessions meant they were doomed to become serial killers, rapists, or destroy everything they loved.  They never considered that what they were experiencing was OCD.


Although there are no specifiers for OCD, the internet has popularized the term “Pure O,” or Pure Obsessional, to describe those who experience OCD without visible compulsions.  There is some controversy around this term, though, as some argue it is misleading.  The individuals who experience “Pure O” often engage in compulsions, just not ones that are as visible and disrupting as, say, flipping a light switch 20 times before leaving a room.  It is also not an actual diagnosis or clinical term and the treatment for “Pure O” is no different from approaches used to treat OCD in general (OCD-UK, 2020).


However, it is important to know that there are individuals out there who are experiencing symptoms of OCD in a manner that may never be visible.  Those who experience OCD without overt compulsions often have obsessions revolving around sex (i.e. sexual orientation, rape, or pedophilia), religion (i.e. engaging in behaviors considered to be highly sinful), or aggression (toward self or others).  These obsessions cause extreme amounts of fear, distress, and shame as they tend to be the flip side of individuals’ values and believes.  This distress is one of the biggest giveaways that an individual is experiencing OCD rather than a disorder that may place them at higher risk of hurting themselves or others.  Individuals with obsessions such as these do still tend to engage in compulsions, they may just not be as visible. Such compulsions may include avoiding situations that trigger the obsession, avoiding certain objects (i.e. knives or items that could be used as weapons), seeking reassurance that they are not “bad,” silently praying, and/or repeating certain phrases (Wochner, 2012).  These individuals may go years or decades without seeking treatment as their compulsions tend to be less outwardly disruptive or disturbing. Therefore, it is important to spread and raise awareness about what classifies as OCD and what can be done to relieve symptoms.



OCD-UK (2020). Does Pure O exist?


Wochner, S. K. (2012). Pure obsessional OCD—symptoms and treatment. Social Work Today, 12(4), p. 22.  Retrieved from:

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