ADHD And Sex: Can My Love Life Be Affected?
By: Toni Hoy
Updated January 30, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Melinda Santa
ADHD is much better understood than it once was, but that doesn't make the symptoms any easier to live with. Many changes occur in the brain for people that have ADHD which cause them to act in ways that they can't control and aren't happy with. People are living with ADHD act in ways that are impulsive, hyperactive, and make it difficult to pay attention to. Such actions can trigger emotional responses such as feelings of poor self-image, problems in relationships, and unstable behavior in the work environment.
The symptoms of ADHD and sex affect both partners in romantic and marriage relationships as well. ADHD can affect sexual behavior as well as relationships, and it can affect it in several different and unexpected ways.
It's important to consider that ADHD is a treatable disorder. People who live with ADHD can enjoy healthy friendships, romantic relationships, and marriages. When ADHD is successfully treated, both partners can enjoy a mutually satisfying sexual relationship.
What Are The Effects Of ADHD On Sexuality?
The effects of ADHD on sexuality are highly individual and subjective, making sexual symptoms difficult to measure. People who live with ADHD often struggle to keep their lives purposeful and orderly. The exhaustion that often accompanies ADHD leaves many individuals depleted of their energy.
Many of the symptoms of ADHD have a subsequent and secondary negative effect on sexual interest and functioning which can add to the stress which may already be present in a romantic or marriage relationship.
Some symptoms can be severe enough to cause sexual dysfunction. By understanding how ADHD affects sexuality, both partners can more readily deal with the stress that it causes.
Sexual Symptoms Of ADHD
The sexual symptoms that accompany ADHD generally fall into two separate categories-hypersexuality and hyposexuality.
The prefix hyper means excess or exaggeration. When we combine the prefix with sexuality, it means an unusually high sex drive. Sexual stimulation causes the brain to release endorphins which send neurotransmitters into action. The brain then sends signals to the body to respond by giving it a sense of calm and relaxation which relieves much of the feelings of restlessness that tend to accompany ADHD.
This is why sexual intercourse or masturbation can help to relieve tension and stress. One of the symptoms of ADHD is impulsivity. Individuals that give in to impulses of a sexual nature can cause additional problems within their personal or romantic relationships. Sexual impulses can lead to risky behaviors such as sexual promiscuity, habitual desires for pornography, the desire for multiple sex partners, or unprotected sex. People who live with ADHD are also at risk for substance use disorders which can increase the chance for poor decision-making and give in to sexual impulses and sexual risk-taking behavior.
The prefix hypo refers to being underactive. By combining the prefix with sexuality, it means having difficulty achieving sexual arousal. Essentially, hyposexuality is the opposite of hypersexuality. Losing interest in sex can be a direct side effect of ADHD in some individuals. For those who take medication to treat ADHD, hyposexuality can also be a side effect. This is particularly true for individuals that take antidepressants to treat their ADHD symptoms. People living with ADHD may experience irritability after orgasm and irritability may be accompanied by feelings of sadness or depression because the brain releases less dopamine at that time.
Just as people living with ADHD may lose interest in other types of activities, they may also become distracted during sex, have trouble concentrating on the sensations, or lose interest in sex altogether.
As a side note, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) doesn't recognize sexual symptoms as part of the diagnostic criteria for someone living with ADHD. Along the same lines, the APA doesn't consider issues of promiscuity or pornography as part of the diagnostic criteria for ADHD either. While they're not part of the criteria for a diagnosis, sexual symptoms can greatly impact well-being.
Understanding Sexuality With Your Partner With ADHD
When sexual symptoms begin to emerge, they can greatly impact the partners of those who live with ADHD. It's common for partners to misperceive such issues as a distraction, lack of concentration, or loss of sexual interest and misinterpret them as signs of rejection.
In better understanding ADHD, partners will learn that trouble concentrating is one of the main symptoms of ADHD. Lack of concentration can become evident in many aspects of an individual's life including their sexual experiences. The lack of focus before, during, or after sexual intercourse usually has nothing to do with the ADHD-affected person's interest or desire in their partner. It's a matter of wanting to focus and not being able to.
It's not easy for people to live with untreated symptoms of ADHD. It's often even more difficult for their loved ones to be understanding about that associated anger, frustration, and forgetfulness. These symptoms affect relationships. Failing relationships can lead to fighting and unrest with romantic partners and spouses, which can hurt sexuality.
ADHD and sex connect in a way that some women may not be able to achieve having an orgasm. Hypersexuality and hyposexuality come into play here. Some women may be hypersexual and be able to reach orgasm quickly and repeatedly. Other women struggle to reach orgasm even after intense, prolonged sexual stimulation.
Many individuals who live with ADHD find that they experience hypersensitivity in the bedroom. This means that they're highly affected by colors, sights, sounds, smells, and the overall environment. In addition to their surroundings, some of the things that their partner finds pleasurable and satisfying may feel irritating and uncomfortable for the person with ADHD. Sensory issues such as smells, textures, tastes, and visual images may cause someone with ADHD to feel annoyed or even repulsed and turned off. That shuts off the mood for both people and can lead to even further frustrations and lack of intimacy.
When a person with ADHD is feeling the hyperactive symptoms of the disorder, they feel like they're constantly functioning in overdrive. On the one hand, the partner may be looking for a slow, gradual climax to sexual intercourse; whereas, someone who is in a hyperactive state may be equally satisfied with a swift sexual intercourse encounter. Essentially, both partners are operating on different speeds-one on high and one on slow. The partner living with ADHD may find it extremely challenging to relax and calm their mind enough to meet their partner's speed and get into the mood for sex.
What Are The Treatment Options For Overcoming Sexual Challenges?
Most people who live with ADHD can enjoy the benefits of a mutually enjoyable sexual relationship with those they love. It takes work and commitment on the part of both partners. Medication and therapy will improve the symptoms of the disorder which will enhance the couple's other strategies to improve their sexual relationship with each other. Here are some things to try that can help improve sexual satisfaction for both partners.
Mix Things Up A Bit
Take some time to brainstorm things that you haven't tried before. Begin the conversation with a discussion of trying some new positions or new locations. Books on improving ideas for sexual intimacy may spark some ideas of how to get rid of the boredom in the bedroom. Be careful in this area. Some people tend to be a little more sexually adventuresome than others. Be sure that both partners are on the same page with the things they're willing to try and things that are out of the question.
Open Up The Communication
Some couples converse little, if at all, before, during, or after sex. If you're the person who lives with ADHD, open up about how your ADHD symptoms may affect how you express your sexual interest and level of intimacy. If you're the partner without ADHD, let your partner know that you're willing to listen to what they need and that you're willing to change your responses to make things comfortable and satisfying for both of you. For example, keeping the lights on or off can heat the level of intimacy or cool it off. Lotions and perfumes can be an enhancement or a detraction.
Practice Mindfulness For Mutually Satisfying Sex
People who struggle with ADHD and sex may not be in a position to wait until they're in the mood for sex. Make sex a priority to keep it from continually being put on the back burner. This may mean making a date and time to have sex and be willing to keep your appointment. Be excited in anticipation of it and look forward to it. When the time comes, do some calming exercises as part of your foreplay. Do some yoga, meditate, or listen to the sound of ocean waves. Practice mindfulness as sexual activity begins. Focus on your partner and work on staying in the moment.
Seek Professional Help
Couples who deal with ADHD can improve their sex lives by seeking guidance and advice from a licensed counselor or therapist. The specialists at BetterHelp can help you find a licensed sex therapist who can help you deal with ADHD and sex and help with ADHD in general.