ADHD and sex can generally be described as sex in the extremes — all the time or never. Before we get to Taylor J’s personal essay based on that chapter of my first book, I’ll share the chapter’s opening.
“What’s the group consensus on ADHD and sex?” new support-group member Jennifer timidly asks. “We’re against ADHD and for sex,” quips Dave.
Some members joke about their sexual woes, but it is gallows humor. Of course they aren’t so much against ADHD as for well-managed or even acknowledged ADHD, not to mention being against the devastating impact it can have on a couple’s sex life—and a person’s self-esteem.
Dave’s wife refuses to consider an ADHD evaluation (despite three of her immediate family members being in treatment) or the fact that her sensory sensitivities and distractibility make her more anxious than amorous.
The part that really bedevils Dave? They enjoyed a great sex life prior to their marriage, and then the passion went out, “like turning off a lightbulb.” Now, he’s only half-kidding when he says, “It’s death by a thousand nights of silent rejection. It’s enough to inspire really bad poetry.”
To be sure, many support-group members aren’t suffering from sexual starvation. Almost one in five ADHD Partner Survey respondents report having a great sex life, including many in long-term partnerships. This seems significant, given that most survey respondents had sought a support group because they were experiencing significant partnership challenges. Moreover, almost half say their partner is a skilled and considerate lover. “Sex is not a problem,” says one. “If only everything in our life could be this easy!” Other survey respondents, however, report more deflating scenarios.
ADHD and Sex: Is It Hot In Here?
By Taylor J
ADHD money woes nearly destroyed our marriage: ADHD Marriage and Money: Financial Loop-de-Loops
ADHD-fueled driving certainly gave us gray hair early in life: How Adult ADHD Can Affected Driving
Sex, however, is not an area that has been a…. problem for us (thank you, Jesus!), in the ways chapter 6 is describing.
Gosh, I’m blushing right now. Is it hot in here?
I’m sorry. I spent the first seven years of our married life impulsively blurting out private things that Dr. Math (my husband) didn’t want repeated in public. So, please be patient if I stutter and stammer over this topic. We’ve been married nearly eleven years, and I think we can say we’re still…um…quite happy with the way things are going in our love life.
Not everyone feels the same way. And that’s an important point: Nothing about ADHD affects the people who have it in the same way. As Gina emphasizes repeatedly:
ADHD is a variable syndrome, and the people who have it are individuals.
Nonetheless, inattention, hyperactivity, and distraction still have a habit of sneaking into the bedroom for many people.
Sex: No Thinking Required?
There’s a common myth (you know you’ve heard it!): Sex is fueled by “animal” instincts, and a man needs no stimulation to actively engage in it.
[advertising; not endorsement] [advertising; not endorsement]
Yet, our more basic brain functions that control arousal—like fear, pleasure, aggression, and sense of smell—are managed by our Executive Functions. If ADHD is a factor in your life, then those Executive Functions may work erratically in any setting, including the bedroom. Gina offers various examples of how this might play out:
- Spacing out during love making
- Rushing through to the end before we lose focus
- Suddenly thinking about other things (like a movie, or that checkbook that needs to be balanced)
- Or simply never “getting around to” sex at all—that’s right, a sexless marriage (after the other partner grows tired of always initiating)
Chapter 6 lists some nicknames for these dysfunctions. A sampling:
- The Energizer Bunny!
- The Do-Me (but I’ll never initiate) Bunny!
- The Indifferent (can we get this over with?) Bunny!”
It’s gallows humor, though. One in three respondents in the ADHD Partner survey report that they have sex between once yearly and never. Many partners of adults with ADHD complain about their sexless marriage. If sex is going to happen, it’s up to them. And sometimes there is rejection.
Gosh, that makes me sick on my stomach. (And don’t forget, class, that ADHD isn’t real; it’s a big-pharma conspiracy and you just need better self-controll!)
Harmful Advice for ADHD-Challenged Couples
I know one friend who said she simply could not pick the right type of lingerie that “turned her husband on.” He thought his lack of sexual response was all her fault, and she spent a small fortune trying to find just the right skimpy outfit please him. Meanwhile, her self-esteem plummeted as she felt she was basically unattractive; her husband later turned to pornography.
Even though Dr. Math and I are both in the “Energizer Bunny” category, I’ve been pregnant seven times in nine years. (Yes, you read that correctly.) On birth control. Five different kinds of birth control.
But hey, if birth control is effective 99 times out of a hundred, just calculate how many times you’d have to make love on perfectly functioning birth control to get pregnant once. Multiply that by seven. Subtract that from the number of days in nine years. Welcome to my favorite side-benefit of ADHD in my marriage.
The really sad thing is, I’ve heard all of these extreme sexual behaviors normalized at one point or another, in various church marriage classes, with the teacher claiming they were gender-specific!
- “Ladies, you know your man is visual. You need to do everything you can to keep his attention—like lingerie, or even learning a lap-dance—or his eyes will rove somewhere else.”
- “Yeah, ladies, even when you really don’t want to, remember that some guys need a lot of sex. Even if you’re thinking about balancing the checkbook while he’s kissing your neck (cause we all know that women have wandering minds), remember that he needs you to be available whenever he’s in the mood.”
- “It is the man’s job to be the initiator and your job to be receptive and warm.”
…With Harmful Consequences
Can you imagine the shame that these (ignorant, uninformed) teachings would bring to an ADHD marriage? Especially a sexless ADHD marriage?
- “Oh no, I’m just not visually appealing enough.”
- “Wait, I have to initiate sex all the time because he doesn’t—does that mean I’m stepping out of my role as a woman?”
- “Hey, I really like sex—why is this guy saying I shouldn’t? Is something wrong with me?”
- My husband’s not initiating. Is something wrong with him?”
Many religiously oriented people turn to a pastor or other spiritual advisor, for marital or sexual problems. If ADHD isn’t recognized by the spiritual community, then the “cure” can often be worse than the disease.
Sometimes the situation is not much better in the mental health profession.
For this chapter’s reading:
- Have you seen distractibility, hyperactivity, or inattentiveness in your sex life?
- How have you mis-read those problems in your ADHD partner? For example, did you think you weren’t attractive enough? Caring enough? Skilled enough?
- How have other ADHD-related challenges affected your love life? For example, when we’re worried about grocery money, it can be hard to focus on amorous activities.
- If you are struggling in a sexless marriage, how has that affected your self-esteem? Does knowing that ADHD might have something to do with your ADHD partner’s lack of interest change your perspective?
Thank you, Taylor J.
Your comments are always welcome!
Read More in The You, Me, ADHD Book Club Series:
And now for the preview of the chapter-by-chapter lineup: the book’s table of contents. Chapter titles appearing as hyperlinks correspond to an essay in the Book Club. Click to read.
We stopped at Chapter 20. Would you like to submit your own essay to the Book Club? We welcome it! “Finding Your Voice” is an essential part of slowing your ADHD Roller Coaster.
From the Tunnel of Love to the Roller Coaster: Could Your Partner Have ADHD?
6 Peaks and Valleys: ADHD in the Bedroom (this post)
Roller Coaster Whiplash and G-Force Confusion: How Many Plunges Before You Say, “Whoa!”
Your Relationship and the Art of Roller Coaster Maintenance: Four Success Strategies
ADHD Relationship Success Strategy #1: Taking Care of Yourself
Introduction: The Amusement Park’s Emergency Room
ADHD Relationship Success Strategy #2: Dealing With Denial
Introduction: Roller Coaster? What Roller Coaster?
16 More Solutions and Strategies
ADHD Relationship Success Strategy #3: Finding Effective Therapy
Introduction: Calling in a Consultant to Help Retrofit Your Ride
17 Why the Wrong Therapy Is Worse Than No Therapy
18 Therapy That Works for ADHD
19 More Solutions and Strategies
ADHD Relationship Success Strategy #4: Understanding Medication’s Role
Introduction: Tightening the Brakes on the Roller Coaster
This post from Jaclyn at The ADHD Homestead touches on a range of issues within this section on medication
21 Rx: Treatment Results That Last
22 Maximizing Lifestyle Choices, Minimizing Rx Side Effects
23 Catch Your Breath and Take Five
Adult ADHD Evaluation and Diagnosis
“But I Heard That…”: More Background for the Unconvinced
Three Views from Decades on the ADHD Roller Coaster
Your story in a comment below will help others—as well as yourself.
Please feel free to respond to the discussion even if you haven’t read the chapter (but I recommend that you do!).