Sex with ADHD
Colleen Godin is a sexual wellness writer and journalist. She operates a one-woman business at ThePleasureConnection.net, specializing in copy writing, marketing and events for the greater pleasure industry. In her spare time, she enjoys disappearing into the forest, finding herself in a great song, and long drives during spontaneous road trips. You can find her on instagram, @ThePleasureConnection.
Sex with ADHD
SURPRISING, LESSER KNOWN FACTS ABOUT ADHD & SEX
COLLEEN GODIN·OCTOBER 4, 2022
ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, affects 366 million children and adults globally (or that we know of so far, at least with an official medical diagnosis). Whether you know it or not, you’ve probably befriended or dated someone with this neurological condition, which is thought to affect the brain’s levels of dopamine and can seriously hinder one’s memory, concentration, and ability to function in day-to-day adult life.
ADHD doesn’t manifest in the exact same way in everyone, and it can even present differently between men and women. Similarly, ADHD can effect the sex drive in vastly different ways that don’t match up with the ‘typical’ idea of how an ADHD person should act.
The ADHD person is often characterized as being completely unable to relax, always jumping up at the slightest distraction and making impulsive decisions, especially when it comes to sex and relationships. They’re assumed to be the enthusiastic and happy person in the room, and often have a reputation for promiscuity.
However, ADHD can also show up as a need to do nothing but relax, stripping away all desire to work, be active, or engage in partnered sex. Those with ADHD might feel frequently depressed, stressed and overwhelmed, or see the lead-up to an orgasm as a chore instead of a reward.
Loving someone with ADHD gets all the more confusing when this already misunderstood mental health disorder becomes stereotyped. But when you really ‘get’ your ADHD partner and the unique struggles they face on a daily basis, they’ll appreciate it in spades.
If you or your partner feels like they don’t quite fit the most commonly accepted picture of someone with ADHD, they might better relate to one of these four lesser-known symptoms.
ADHD CAN DAMPEN DESIRE IN LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIPS
ADHD can give many folks an ‘all or nothing’ personality. If you’ve got an ADHD friend, or are ADHD yourself, you might notice that when stumbling onto a new hobby or interest, you or they are really into it, like near obsessive level. And then suddenly, the interest vanishes into thin air at random, while usually giving way to a totally new hobby that’s got nothing to do with the last one.
This phenomena happens because ADHD causes the brain to constantly seek novelty in the form of dopamine boosts. Whether that means picking up a new musical instrument to learn, deep diving into web research on obscure subjects, or falling head over heels in love with a new partner, the ADHD brain is easily romanced by what’s new and exciting.
This same principal applies to sex, even when an ADHD person is still attracted to their partner and still really wants to be in the relationship after the initial ‘crush’ feelings have chilled out. Though the ‘honeymoon phase’ (aka the first 6-9 months of a relationship, when the freshness and lovey-dovey, buttery fly feelings keep horny levels high) happens to everyone, even without ADHD, it’s extra difficult for some ADHD folks to maintain a desire for sex once they’re comfortable and stable with a long-term partner.
Those with ADHD might find themselves suddenly bored with sex, and because of the way their brains work, they’re literally given no choice in the matter. It’s not (necessarily) that they’re craving an affair, in love with someone else, or even dissatisfied with their partner. Their brains are basically screaming, ‘Hey, you’re still doing the same thing (or person) you did last month, and the month before that? I’m bored. Need! More! Dopamine!’
It’s this very reason that can make some ADHD folks super fun in bed because they’re usually down to try anything once. If it sounds like something that can get their brains excited for sex again, like a new sex toy, an adventure into Shibari bondage, or testing out a kinky activity, they’ll often respond with enthusiasm.
PEOPLE WITH ADHD CAN BE MORE SENSITIVE TO DISCOMFORT, PAIN, AND SEXUAL INTENSITY.
In a somewhat confusing dichotomy, those with ADHD are often overly sensitive to emotional responses like praise, rejection, or stress, but they’re often touted as being into BDSM. This doesn’t apply to everyone with ADHD, though. On the opposite end of the spectrum, ADHD can occasionally have another side effect: an extreme sensitivity to certain physical and sexual sensations.
Lots of people with ADHD say they’ve found novelty, excitement or a sense of release and comfort in BDSM practices. For some folks with this mental health challenge, engaging in – for example – bondage while playing the role of the submissive partner can allow them to finally relax and stop over-thinking every single moment. Similarly, delighting in sensory experiences like spanking or wearing a blindfold can help them focus during sex and add something unique beyond the same ol’ in-and-out.
For others, however, kinky stuff like bondage rope, spanking, or anal sex can overwhelm their senses in a negative way, leading to feelings of overall severe discomfort, physical pain, and mental trauma.
Many people with ADHD are extremely physically sensitive and struggle with even the most vanilla of sex acts, like oral sex, light anal play, or penetration. These same people might also have other physical sensitivities, like disliking the feeling of certain clothing fabrics against the skin or being annoyed by an itchy tag on the collar of a t-shirt.
It’s easy for these types of people to become overwhelmed and feel stressed and traumatized by sex acts that might feel like bliss for someone else. Therefore, don’t take it personally if your ADHD partner has zero interest in kinky sex, feels stressed at the thought of getting kinky with you, or has even opened up about having tried kinky sex with a prior partner and realized they’d prefer not to ever do it again.
Again, ADHD doesn’t give those with the condition much choice in what does and doesn’t feel good, and it’s very rarely personal. If something doesn’t work for someone with ADHD, that’s pretty much that, and forcing themselves into a stressful sex situation will only cause their overall desire for sex to wane further.
ADHD CAN MAKE IT CHALLENGING TO FOCUS AND ENJOY PLEASURE.
You may have heard of the old stereotype of the 1950s woman who, unable to enjoy the supposed pleasures of partnered sex, starts planning the week’s grocery list in her head while attempting to patiently wait for her husband to climax.
Chances are, this stereotyped woman may have been fully able to enjoy sex; she just couldn’t stay focused on the enjoyment because of her ADHD.
ADHD and focus are worst enemies. Unable to keep their brains interested in the task at hand, folks with ADHD are helpless as their minds wander into daydreams and future plans, and very rarely on purpose. It happens at work and school, during fun social interactions, and yes, unfortunately the bedroom is no exception.
See, even when someone with ADHD is enjoying something, like a conversation with a friend or foreplay with a partner, their brains find it impossible to stay in the moment. Folks with ADHD day dream when they’re bored, and they can also day dream when they’re interested – and all without even trying, as if their minds literally grabbed a jacket and went out for a walk without asking first.
If your ADHD partner suddenly gets glossy-eyed during sex or stops making those hot-n-heavy breathing sounds, stop and check in with them. Their bodies might still be into it, but their brains randomly decided to start thinking about that one time in the 4th grade when their BFF sang in the talent show, or what they’ll wear to this weekend’s party, or how they’re super stressed about only having one roll of toilet paper left.
Whatever the reason, work on coming back to the moment together. First, make sure your partner isn’t zoning out due to trauma-related memories or something related to past sexual abuse. Then try a new position, switch from intercourse to oral sex (or vice versa), or take things back a step and make-out for a while until you’re both turned on again.
For ADHD folks, losing focus during sex doesn’t always equal disinterest, though it could mean that they’re ready to wrap things up, at least for now. Don’t take it personally, and talk through how you both feel. They might be game for starting things up again later.
ADHD CAN MAKE SOME FOLKS FEEL ASEXUAL (EVEN IF THEY AREN’T)
One of the most commonly accepted personality traits of ADHD is hypersexuality. Lots of ADHD folks say they’re constantly horny for both partnered sex and masturbation. For these people, sex, even in long-term relationships, continues to provide the dopamine boost their brains are always craving.
However, it’s not so common to hear about those who feel the opposite: hyposexuality.
For starters, hyposexuality is not to be confused with asexuality. Asexuals never (or almost never) feel sexual desire toward another person and never or rarely think about partnered sex as something they’d like to do, and they’re generally ok with that. Whether they’ve never felt the need to have intercourse since hitting puberty, or tried sex as an adult with different partners and realized it’s simply not for them, asexuality is a more concrete concept of a person’s identity (that can, of course, change with time and circumstances, like many aspects of sexuality).
Asexuality is not a temporary dip in libido or an overall low sex drive. Asexuality falls on the LGBTQIA+ orientation spectrum, and when someone says “I’m asexual,” you can presume they’re not interested in partnered sex at all (unless they specify differently) and are not distressed by that fact.
However, some folks with hyposexuality may question from time to time if they are actually asexual, at least before realizing that their ADHD can contribute to their lack of interest in sex. Hyposexual can be a medical diagnosis, and it’s characterized by difficulty in reaching orgasm, painful intercourse or erectile dysfunction, and a decrease in desire. Hyposexuality can also be caused by stress, depression, or side effects from medications, all of which can affect those with ADHD.
Hyposexuality often worries and distresses the partner with the lower sex drive, as they may have enjoyed frequent, satisfying sex at the start of their relationship and now they’ve suddenly lost all interest. They could have also had a lower sex drive from the start, but fell in love with a high sex drive partner, and now they’re worried they can’t please their partner enough to keep them faithful.
Either way, ADHD can make anything their brains don’t want to do – like washing dishes, doing homework or career projects, or even having sex – feel literally impossible. Hence, when you’re ADHD and hyposexual, you begin to wonder if you never even liked sex in the first place, despite knowing that that’s not true.
Decreasing desire and generally needing less sex to lead a happy life are – truly – totally average occurrences in many long-term relationships. Your sex life will evolve and change as you both age, and even more so if one or both partners have atypical mental health. Explore other ways to connect and foster intimacy – like sharing secrets, life goals, and laughter – when sexual desire isn’t easy to access.