Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurological condition that affects individuals of all ages. While it is well-known for its impact on attention, focus, and impulse control, ADHD can also influence various aspects of an individual’s life, including their sexual life. In this article, we will explore how ADHD can affect one’s sexual experiences and relationships, shedding light on the challenges individuals with ADHD may face and providing strategies for enhancing intimacy.
Understanding ADHD and Its Impact on Sex
ADHD is characterized by symptoms such as impulsivity, hyperactivity, distractibility, and difficulty with sustained attention. These symptoms can manifest in different ways and may influence an individual’s sexual experiences in several ways:
Distractibility and Focus: People with ADHD may find it challenging to maintain focus during sexual activities. Their minds may wander, making it difficult to fully engage in the moment. In order to orgasm, many need to be able to focus and sustain attention. When someone’s mind is thinking about a lot of different things, they may have a hard time connecting to desire and arousal in order to reach orgasm.
Impulsivity: Impulsivity can lead to risky sexual behaviors, such as engaging in unprotected sex or pursuing casual encounters without careful consideration of potential consequences or boundaries. In relationships, it may cause someone to engage in touch spontaneously without getting the full consent of their partner. Impulsivity can be driven, in part by the excitement felt by arousal.
Relationship Strain: The symptoms of ADHD can contribute to relationship difficulties, including conflicts related to unmet sexual needs, miscommunication, and lower frustration tolerance. Sometimes those with ADHD have a wide array of interests and a need for novelty that their partner may not share. It can be challenging to talk about sex or be on the same page with how it is communicated. Sometimes, those with ADHD can miss conversational cues or information due to distraction and then may not have fully heard what was said.
Medication Effects: Some medications used to manage ADHD symptoms may have side effects that affect libido and sexual functioning. Stimulant medications can increase libido while SSRIs can lower libido as well as cause issues with erectile functioning and achieving orgasm no matter the gender.
Common Relationship Challenges
ADHD can impact both the individual with the condition and their partner, leading to potential challenges within the relationship. A common dynamic when one partner has ADHD is a parent (overachiever)/child (underachiever) where the person with ADHD is viewed by the non-ADHD partner as a child. This underlying dynamic is seen in many facets of the relationship including sex. Here are some challenges, in particular, that impact sex.
Mismatched Sexual Desire: As with many couples, issues with desire discrepancies can occur when there is a difference in the level of libido between partners. This dynamic creates many problems in a relationship including problems with desire for a partner without ADHD because they aren’t feeling turned on or are resentful of their “child-like” partner. The partner with ADHD can feel like they are talked down to or can’t live up to unrealistic expectations set by the non-ADHD partner. Neither of these perspectives makes either feel sexy or aroused.
Communication Breakdown: Misunderstandings and frustration may arise from a lack of open communication. It can be challenging for some with ADHD to be consistent, reliable, and supportive due to challenges with remembering to communicate certain details and to think through scenarios that may frustrate those around them. This may cause nagging or frequent reminders and resentment for the non-ADHD partner and then avoidance as well as resentment for the ADHD partner. The ADHD partner doesn’t feel effective or a sense of self trust and the non ADHD partner doesn’t feel as secure without consistency. Couples get stuck in situations such as:
Non-ADHD Partner: I don’t want to keep reminding you, but if I don’t then the bill doesn’t get
paid and we have to pay the bill.
ADHD Partner: I don’t want you to feel anxious, but I also can’t guarantee that I will remember
to do what you are asking.
The above situations are a place of stuckness for many couples and create a list of ongoing communication issues that sometimes never get resolved and create ongoing resentment and anger. Resentment is toxic to relationships, especially with sex.
Emotional Distress: The emotional toll of unmet sexual needs and relationship conflicts (such as the example above) can lead to emotional distress for both partners. Some people with ADHD may also have a low frustration tolerance or struggle with Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria causing them to misread social cues and take things personally creating strong emotions. If this causes ongoing challenges with big emotions, this may put extra strain on the relationship. Some people move towards sex when they have emotional distress and others move away from it. This can be a challenge when there is one of each in a relationship. As noted above, if there is resentment, it is a barrier to emotional as well as physical connection. It may cause you to not want to hug or kiss your partner never mind have sex with them.
Strategies for Navigating Intimacy Challenges
Open Communication: Both partners should feel comfortable discussing their needs, concerns, and expectations regarding sex. Creating a safe space for communication can help address challenges and reduce misunderstandings. It is better to over-communicate than under-communicate. Be clear and concise with what your needs are. Check with the other person to ensure that you heard what they said. This helps to ensure there isn’t a miscommunication and helps each person feel heard. Expecting someone to know or be able to intuit your needs is not effective. It is easier to emphasize when you feel understood by someone. Try to use I statements to reduce blame, which will likely escalate emotions.
Express Appreciation and Gratitude often: Hearing more positives than negatives can make one less likely to take things personally and give one another the benefit of the doubt. It helps people feel good about themselves and feel like their partner views them in a positive way. Thank your partner for the things they do for you, the house, kids, friends, and family after they do them. Express appreciation and gratitude for efforts made, support you saw or felt, or qualities that are particularly like about them. Anything you can think of. This builds emotional intimacy and connection that moves many towards desire and sex.
Education and Understanding: Learning about ADHD and its impact on sexual experiences can lead to greater empathy and understanding between partners. Learn about one another’s brains and how they work. ADHD can differ by the person making it important to understand the symptoms that impact your relationship. The person with ADHD should know how their symptoms manifest in all areas of their life and create strategies that allow them to be responsible for managing them. It is also important for the partner without ADHD to share how their brain works and to be clear about what they need. Create agreements that support both brains.
Scheduling Intimate Time: It may not seem sexy, but planning and scheduling intimate moments can help individuals with ADHD manage their distractibility and focus during sex. In some cases, scheduling may cause more anxiety, and if that is the case review expectations for the time. For many couples, scheduling time together for connection is important. This connection can be to catch up, enjoy a fun event, or have physical intimacy including sex.
Medication Management: If medication is part of the treatment plan for ADHD, consulting with a healthcare professional to adjust dosages or explore alternative medications with fewer sexual side effects may be beneficial. It can also be helpful to use it to manage symptoms and make some things less challenging for the ADHD partner.
Self-Care: Each person is responsible for their own emotions and pleasure. Engage in self-care that supports you to manage and explore yourself in a way that feels authentic and empowering. Each person is responsible for communication their wants, needs, and desires to the other person. Advocating or asserting yourself is good self-care!
Sex Therapy: Couples therapy or individual therapy for the person with ADHD can provide tools and strategies for managing ADHD-related challenges in the context of a sexual relationship.
ADHD can indeed impact an individual’s sexual experiences and their relationships. However, with open communication, education, and a willingness to adapt, couples can navigate these challenges successfully. Seeking professional guidance when needed and developing strategies to address specific ADHD-related issues in the bedroom can lead to more fulfilling and satisfying sexual relationships for individuals with ADHD and their partners.
Remember, ADHD is just one aspect of a person’s identity, and it should not define their entire sexual experience or relationships. With understanding and support, individuals with ADHD can enjoy fulfilling and intimate connections with their partners.
Sexual Health and Healing offers a men’s group for those with ADHD that discusses challenges related to ADHD that impact relationships as well as sexual issues. Contact us for more information.