Sex Advice

ADHD Can Impact Your Sex Life—Here’s What To Know

Photo: Stocksy/ Alexey Kuzma
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts an individual’s ability to focus, ignore stimuli, complete tasks, stay organized, and resist impulsivity, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Given that ADHD affects an estimated 6.76 percent of adults, which translates to 366 million people, it's also crucial to understand the ways in which it can also impact a person's sex life—and, by extension, their relationships, intimacy, and overall health.

“ADHD’s core manifestations are distraction and an inability to focus or complete tasks, which often come into play at work and school; however, a brain is a brain all the time, not just at work or school. So, of course it could have an impact on your sex life," says Anastasia Sielski Elizalde, LMSW, a psychotherapist specializing in sexuality and gender at Express Yourself Therapy. Because folks with ADHD often struggle with maintaining focus, being present during sex and other acts of intimacy can also be difficult," she adds.

“ADHD’s core manifestations are distraction and an inability to focus or complete tasks…so, of course it could have an impact on your sex life." —Anastasia Sielski Elizalde, LMSW

In effect, this might mean struggling with specific aspects of sex, like difficulty reaching orgasm, challenges with intimacy overall, interpersonal conflict as a result of not being able to focus on sex, and even impulsivity when it comes to sex. But whether you personally have ADHD or a sexual partner does, none of this is to say you're without options or strategies to ensure a fulfilling and pleasure-rich relationship with intimacy. Below, get expert tips for having a great sex life when you have ADHD.

5 tips from sexual health professionals about how to have a fulfilling sex life when you have ADHD

1. Prioritize communication

People with ADHD are prone to feel bored or uninterested, says Elizalde, and while personal preference for sexual activities differ from person to person, sometimes people with ADHD want the most stimulating or otherwise exciting-to-them component of sex to take center stage. So, anything they find lacking in excitement might lead to them losing interest, says Cyndi Darnell, sexologist and sex therapist, and the author of Sex When You Don't Feel like It: The Truth About Mismatched Libido & Rediscovering Desire.

This can cause conflict in a relationship when one partner might desire a certain activity and is left to wonder why their partner isn't game. Take, for instance, the situation of one partner wanting to kiss during foreplay, but the ADHD-having partner being keen to move straight to sex.

In cases like these, Elizalde suggests making sure your communication lines within the relationship are open. So much pain and conflict can be avoided between partners if they both understand the inner workings of ADHD and their desire. One partner can affirm that the other is not a bad kisser; they just don't like to kiss for a long time.

2. Don't be afraid to plan

People with ADHD tend to benefit from extra planning, organization strategies, and active reminders, says Darnell—so, planning sex (rather than banking on it being magical and spontaneous) can be especially helpful for people who have ADHD.

Such planning can apply to acts other than intercourse, as well. For instance, Darnell recommends that people with ADHD set phone reminders to hug a partner goodbye or offer physical affection. “Small everyday acts of attention and affection, whether small questions, texts, or touches contribute to the build of desire in a relationship,” she adds.

3. Be more aware of your risk-taking impulses

Since ADHD is correlated with impulsivity, being aware of the implications of this on a person's sex life is crucial. It might mean that they enjoy sex is if there is heightened riskiness at play, which could mean forgoing protection with someone they don't know well, for instance.

To ensure the inclination for risky and impulsive behavior doesn't lead to unsafe territory, sexually speaking, Elizalde suggests focusing on awareness and self-reflection, specifically checking in with your sexuality, what you like, what you don't like, what excites you, and what doesn't, says Elizalde. For example, if a sense of thrill is an important part of arousal for you, introspect to ensure your behaviors aren’t a risk to your health and well-being.

Separating the idea of "exciting" from "unsafe" is important.

It is certainly possible to engage in sex that appeals to a sense of riskiness without putting you in harm's way. You can bring protection to dates or parties where you might want to have sex, get tested regularly, and talk thoroughly about boundaries and consent prior to sex with a new partner. These measures can be taken without diminishing the thrill of a new encounter, and also, separating the idea of "exciting" from "unsafe" is important, says Darnell.

4. Work with your medication

When prescribed, medications for ADHD are important and useful for people who take them. Even though they may help you do laundry or work—they can be useful in your sex life as well, says Elizalde. Since you may not want to take medication before bed (so that you can sleep through the night) you might consider changing up the time you have sex.

“Some medications can dampen a person's sex drive, and if this is happening, it's important to discuss this with your prescribing physician,” says Marcy Caldwell, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and ADHD specialist. You might also find that you can focus differently during sex if you have sex in the morning or after having taken your dose (whenever that may be), she adds. So, consider trying sex at different times, in accordance with your medication regimen, so you can gauge when the best time for you will be.

5. Bring more novelty into the bedroom

“ADHD brains are highly motivated by novelty, and therefore any way that someone with ADHD can inject novelty into their sexual relationships can benefit them and keep them engaged,” says Dr. Caldwell. “This can involve experimenting with kink, role-playing, adding in additional partners, or even just trying new locations and positions.”

For example, sex toys are an excellent tool for people with ADHD, according to Elizalde, because they allow for added stimulation, novelty, and rewarding activities. If being patient for an orgasm is a turnoff, try using a vibrator during sex to ensure that you don't become disinterested. You could also use a stimulating lube that offers warming or tingling sensations if that feels particularly engaging to you, says Darnell. Just the act of incorporating different things into sex can be good for the novelty-seeking ADHD brain.

“A loving, adventurous, and creative partner is extremely useful as well—someone who can go on the creative novelty-seeking journey with the person and someone who can appreciate and enjoy the energy that the ADHD brain brings to sex,” says Dr. Caldwell. This is an important reminder that the ways ADHD affects sex aren’t always negative and are often simply different than that of a neurotypical brain.

Creativity, confidence, curiosity, and desire to try new things are valuable traits to have in many different areas of your life, including the bedroom. And, Dr. Caldwell reassures, there are many, many, people out there who would be really excited and grateful for a partner like this.

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