Watch Out for Sex!
Young adults with ADHD are often impulsive, which interferes with smart decisions — especially when it comes to sex. Check out these three tips to help keep your sex life happy, healthy, and safe.
For young adults with ADHD, sex can be dangerous. I’m not moralizing here. I do sex therapy. I like helping young people of any sexual or gender orientation understand sex and sexuality, so don’t give up on me yet.
Sex is fun only when you treat it responsibly. This is tricky for anyone, but ADHD inhibits your ability to focus on what is most important in a situation and to choose the correct action to take. You should think things through before you act on impulse.
As a teen or young adult with ADHD, your goal in approaching sex is to act intentionally. Here are three safe sex guidelines that can help you see danger coming, so you can either step out of the way or get on it:
1. Health. The people who devise government-sponsored programs seem to think that scaring kids with creepy sexually transmitted infection (STI) threats will prevent them from having sex. It never has, and it never will. So, I’ll just say that teens and young adults who have sex with several partners raise their chances of coming down with something. If you have multiple partners, and don’t get every single one tested before you hook up, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll get an STI.
Herpes (HSV2) is easy to catch, even if you use a condom, and impossible to really get rid of. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is easier to acquire, so girls should get a Gardasil shot before becoming sexually active to reduce the risk of cervical cancer. The shot is also recommended for boys now, so that they don’t pass HPV around. However, the vaccine won’t keep you safe from all strains. You can carry certain STIs with no sign of symptoms, so don’t wait until things aren’t feeling right to be tested. Remember, random hook-ups are more fun than their consequences. Think it through.
2. Emotions. People with ADHD have a tough time with emotional intimacy. Sex, for them, is more an awesome adventure than a way to express sentiment or make a spiritual connection. That goes for girls and guys, though they express it differently.
What seems exciting at 20 may be remembered differently at 25, when you look back on your years of sexual exploration with self-judgment and disappointment. I see some young people in their mid-20s as traumatized by their own early sexual conduct as are those who have been assaulted or molested.
A good rule of thumb is to decide up front whether you will look back on what you’re about to do with pride or regret. Sexual impulses are normal, and sometimes it’s OK to act on them. Other times, it isn’t wise to do so. Though ADHD makes those decisions tougher, your job is to figure out the difference and act accordingly.
3. Ethics. Instructions for ethical sexual conduct would fill a book, which, by the way, I am writing this year. Though everyone should be honest in sexual expression, people with ADHD must be especially mindful to treat themselves and their partners with moral and psychological integrity. At the top of the list of considerations is reproduction. It’s never ethical to produce children you can’t care for or don’t want, so if you’re straight, master contraception.
Teen girls can get the Depo-Provera shot or the Nexplanon implant, or use NuvaRing, rather than have to remember to take a pill every day. Boys shouldn’t trust anyone’s contraception but their own. Resist the impulse to toss the condoms unless you’re in an exclusive relationship and you have verified your partner’s contraception status. Everyone of every orientation and identity should be honest about their intentions with themselves and their partner. Is this a hook-up or something more intense? Are you capable of an exclusive relationship right now? Are you having sex with other people?
These guidelines aren’t intended to limit your options for sexual expression. If you practice them correctly, they won’t. I know many sexually active teens and young adults, with and without ADHD, who have thought through sex, are doing what they mean to do, and are pretty satisfied with the outcome.