Wednesday, February 11, 2015

ADHD Between the Sheets

guest blog by Ari Tuckman, PsyD, MBA, and Linda Roggli, PCC

There's a lot of good information available on how to improve a relationship if one partner has ADHD. Unfortunately, most of that good advice goes silent when you reach the bedroom door.

Every couple does better when they have a satisfying sex life, but couples who struggle more outside of bed need that positive energy all the more. Therefore, when one or both partners have ADHD, the protective effects of a good sex life are too important to neglect. Sex isn’t just fun; it protects your relationship—and the process of creating a better sex life will strengthen your relationship in many other ways.

ADHD doesn’t disappear when the two of you get into bed together. Although everyone gets distracted sometimes, even during sex, people with ADHD tend to get distracted more often. It can be difficult to turn off your brain and ignore unrelated thoughts about the day or outside sounds, which makes it hard to give physical and emotional intimacy your full attention. This can impact both your ability to be responsive to your partner and also to focus on your own enjoyment.

At the other end of the spectrum, some partners with ADHD may hyperfocus during sex, which can make for a very intense experience, potentially for both partners. The partner who has ADHD may have a higher desire for variety and novelty in his or her sexual experiences, which stimulate the release of dopamine. When channeled in ways that a partner enjoys, this can make for a very rewarding sex life. If not, it can lead to disagreements over what is acceptable sexual behavior within the relationship (for example, pornography, sharing fantasies, extramarital activities, and so forth).

High sensitivity to touch, sound, smell, and light can make the ADHD sexual experience even trickier. The partner who has ADHD may sometimes not be able tolerate being touched even in a caring, loving manner. Intermittent or changing sensitivities are confusing and frustrating for the partner who does not have ADHD. A stroke or touch that was welcome one night may be irritating or even painful the next, which baffles the couple and interferes with sexual satisfaction. Worse, it may postpone sex until the couple can work through their differences.

Probably the biggest effect that ADHD has on a couple’s sex life happens long before the couple even gets into bed. Conflicts from earlier in the day can interfere with feeling sexually generous toward your partner or with the vulnerability involved in making sexual requests. It’s an unfortunate irony that the more a couple struggles, the less able they are to enjoy the restorative benefits of great sexual experiences.

In addition to the emotional factors, ADHD also creates logistical barriers to sex. Lost efficiencies during the day often translate into getting into bed later, thereby squeezing out the time that most couples have for sex. This is further exacerbated when the two partners have different bedtimes, so they lose built-in opportunities for time together to turn sexual.

Women with ADHD are at the mercy of hormonal swings, which alternately amplify or diminish their ADHD symptoms; low estrogen means high ADHD symptoms. Estrogen virtually disappears just before menses begins, so women still having monthly cycles are likely to feel the effects of the ADHD brain then. Menopausal or post-menopausal women have a double whammy in that both their circulating estrogen levels and their sexual desires are low. Recognizing and understanding female ADHD hormonal influences will smooth conflicts in the bedroom as well as out of it.

The good news is that getting on top of your or your partner’s ADHD will probably have a positive effect on your sex life. Don’t buy into the myth that taming the ADHD is enough or that all the work has to come from the partner who has ADHD. After all, couples without ADHD also need to work at creating a good relationship, in and out of bed.

Addressing the ADHD issues is important for a satisfying sex life, but dealing with the relationship issues is equally and perhaps even more important. With commitment, conversation, humor, and love, couples with ADHD can be happy in bed and out.

A longer version of this post appeared in the August 2014 issue of Attention magazine, available through our free app, which you can download on the App store. Current CHADD members can access it through the app at no extra cost.

You can also start or join a conversation about ADHD and sex on Attention connection, your social network for all things ADHD!

ARI TUCKMAN, PsyD, MBA is the author of Understand Your Brain, Get More Done: The ADHD Executive Functions Workbook (2012) and More Attention, Less Deficit: Success Strategies for Adults with ADHD (2009). He is a psychologist in private practice in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and a member of the CHADD board of directors.
LINDA ROGGLI, PCC, founded the ADDiva Network to support women over age 40 who suspect they may have ADHD. She is a professional certified coach and the creator of GardenSpirit Guesthouse, a women's retreat center in the Piedmont of North Carolina. She is the author of Confessions of an ADDiva: midlife in the non-linear lane (Passionate Possibility Press, 2011).


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