The Key to a Better ADHD Relationship? Better Sex
A new ADHD couples survey shows that the key to a better relationship is sex. Read the results here, along with expert recommendations for a happy relationship.
The longer I treat people with ADHD, the more I believe that living happily with the condition is tied to relationships. The practical matters that experts talk about — time management, procrastination, forgetfulness — are less important for people with ADHD than is the state of their relationships with romantic partners.
A vital part of romantic relationships, of course, is sex. Overall relationship satisfaction in couples often overlaps with sexual satisfaction, making it hard to have one without the other.
But ADHD, especially if undiagnosed and untreated, can negatively affect sexual and relationship satisfaction for both partners. Creating a strong sex life requires both partners to learn how to live with and manage ADHD symptoms, as well as the other relationship snags that every couple encounters.
To further explore and understand ADHD and sex, I created the ADHD Relationship Sex Survey, designed for couples with at least one ADHD partner. The project, an online, 72-question survey, has been in the making for several years, and saw responses from more than 3,000 people.
The results of the survey are all presented in my new book, ADHD After Dark. And as a certified sex therapist, the book includes my specific recommendations for achieving better sex — and a better relationship.
Here’s a preview of the data and my advice:
Sexual Eagerness of Adults with ADHD
Just as individuals with ADHD feel things more intensely, this applies to sexuality as well.
The majority of respondents with ADHD rated themselves higher than the non-ADHD partners in sexual eagerness, based on answers to the 12 survey questions on this topic which asked about desired sexual frequency, porn use frequency, and kinkiness.
This intensity can strengthen the relationship, but, as in other relationships, it is a double-edged sword, and can become another point of disagreement if the partners are too different in their desires.
Bridging the ADHD Differences
In order to keep sex more good than bad, you need to find ways to bridge the differences. This involves addressing ADHD, as well as whatever else affects one or both partners’ sexual interest — psychological or medical conditions, work stress. If something is detracting from your sex life, change it — and explain why your partner might also want to address it.
Have honest conversations about your sex life (many couples never do). This involves discussing what would make for a great sex life for each of you, how to get in the mood, and how often you would like to get together. If you and your partner have a big difference in your desired frequency, which many in the survey did, it’s important to discuss alternatives to sex if one partner isn’t interested.
Sexuality is extremely personal, and we must be sensitive to our partner’s actual or perceived judgment. It is tempting to hold back, but passion burns brightest in honesty, and honesty grows best in respect. This is when broader relationship behavior becomes important. It’s hard to unleash the beast in bed if you and your partner have been sniping at each other all day.
ADHD Treatment Effort Matters
The harder you work at managing ADHD, the better your sex life will be. More specifically, the harder you think your partner is working at managing your own or their own ADHD, the better your sex life will be. Those who felt that their ADHD partner worked hard at managing symptoms had 60 percent more sex than those who felt their partner put in the least effort.
Regardless of which partner has ADHD, it’s important to talk about what you’re each doing to manage symptoms. If there is more you can do to improve symptom management, then step it up — like putting more appointments and reminders into your shared family calendar. Talk about your treatment goals, so that you’re both going in the same direction.
Good discussions and effort have a double benefit. They make treatment more effective if you are both working toward common goals, and contributes to the feeling that you are in this together. Good effort in one area is returned with generosity in others. Managing ADHD is an aphrodisiac to your partner. As one non-ADHD respondent said, her sex life would be better “if I could rely on my husband to do what he says he is going to do outside of the bedroom.”
Prioritize Time Together
The top five barriers to a better sex life, according to the respondents, all refer to too little time/energy and too much frustration with each other. As one respondent with ADHD said, “It’s impossible to relax and pay attention to your partner, in the bedroom and out, when there are a gazillion things demanding your attention.”
The five least significant barriers, on the other hand, were all about the sex not being satisfying enough. This means that when couples actually get around to sex, it is usually good.
ADHD couples, therefore, need to discuss making time together in the bedroom a priority. Don’t allow the demands of everyday life to make sex the last thing to happen and the first thing to go, because there are other things that “need” to be done. You will probably be happy about fooling around once you start.
Use your intimacy as a motivator to manage the rest of the day and evening, too. Remembering to load the dishwasher is foreplay, as is asking nicely. A flirty text during the day, or a friendly squeeze after dinner, keeps your eye on the prize.
Ari Tuckman, Psy.D., CST, is a psychologist, author, and presenter specializing in ADHD and sex therapy, based in West Chester, Pennsylvania. This article was adapted from his new book ADHD After Dark: Better Sex Life, Better Relationship, recently published by Routledge. More information at adultADHDbook.com.
Updated on June 17, 2020