Not all people living with ADHD experience hypersexuality. But for those who do, it’s still possible to have a healthy sex life.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can impact how people navigate intimacy and relationships.
Challenges surrounding ADHD and sex may include:
- lack of impulse control
- sensory issues
- rejection sensitivity
- sexual dysfunctions
A person’s sex drive may also be affected.
Just like some people with ADHD may experience hyperactivity more than others, many folks might live with hypersexuality as well.
What is hypersexuality?
Hypersexuality refers to an obsession with sexual behaviors or thoughts that negatively impact a person’s life or relationships.
It’s also sometimes called:
- compulsive sexual behavior disorder
- hypersexuality disorder
- sexual addiction
When we talk about hypersexuality and a low or high sex drive in this article, we’re specifically discussing the state of being by the individual that’s causing distress.
There’s a common misconception that every person with ADHD deals with hypersexuality, says Cate Osborn, a certified sex educator specializing in neurodiversity and sex.
This simply isn’t true.
“While there can be a tendency toward hypersexuality as it relates to ADHD, there’s insufficient evidence to say that hypersexuality is more common in people with ADHD,” she explains.
A 2021 study suggests that research is limited on ADHD and hypersexuality, so the relationship is unclear. But people with ADHD often report experiencing hypersexuality and other paraphilias, and many folks with these tendencies concurrently have ADHD.
It’s important to note that ADHD doesn’t cause hypersexuality or compulsive sexual behaviors. There are potential connections, though.
Impulsivity and fixations
A need or want for physical intimacy can sometimes become a main focus for someone with ADHD, says Osborn.
They also point out that the experience of hypersexuality is often impacted by ADHD in that it can exacerbate the feeling of “I need to have sex right now.”
Sex could also serve as a form of escapism for people with ADHD.
“If there’s a sense of outside pressures and expectations that aren’t being met, meeting one’s own needs by engaging in self-stimulation is a common factor in compulsive behaviors manifesting,” Osborn explains.
For example, she notes that for people with ADHD, frequent masturbation or watching pornography as a form of self-soothing could become an unhealthy habit.
Other research from 2012 indicates that people with ADHD may also show lower levels of dopamine transporters compared with the brains of people without the condition. But more studies are needed to support this.
As a result, dopamine-seeking behaviors — like masturbating or watching pornography — may be extra appealing to folks with ADHD.
Symptoms of mental health conditions are criteria to qualify someone for a diagnosis. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), there are no sexual symptoms of ADHD. This includes hypersexuality.
“When we talk about something being a ‘symptom,’ what we’re talking about is frequency and intensity,” says Osborn.
For example, she asks: Do you lose your keys once a week or 12 times a day? Do you experience hypersexuality a couple of days before your period (which is common), or do you spend hours a day viewing pornography and masturbating?
A 2019 study suggests that ADHD symptoms may play an important role in the severity of hypersexuality. But they might play a stronger role in problematic pornography use among men versus women.
Osborn reminds that ADHD is a spectrum disorder, meaning that it looks different for everyone. “There’s no one ‘right way’ to have ADHD,” they say. “When we talk about how ADHD affects a person’s sexuality, it’s important to remember that we’re talking about an individual.”
Do certain ADHD medications cause people to be more horny than usual? Not quite.
Friendly reminder about sex drives
There’s no “standard” amount of sex that a person is supposed to want or not want.
Sexuality exists on a spectrum, and so do sex drives. Some folks may desire sex stronger or more often than others, and that’s OK.
Osborn explains that ADHD medication helps provide support and focus, but they can’t pinpoint where to direct it. Sometimes, this leads to an increased focus on sex or desire for intimacy.
“Conversely, more people with ADHD tend to report that ADHD medications actually dull their sex drive rather than increase it, for the same issue mentioned above,” she adds.
They also note that medication for conditions that often occur alongside ADHD, like anxiety and depression, can decrease a person’s libido and ability to reach orgasm, especially for people assigned female at birth.
Although you may face ADHD-related challenges, you’re still fully capable of having a safer, pleasurable sex life.
Osborn offers the following tips for how people with ADHD can better manage their sexual tendencies.
Communicate with your partners
For partnered folks, Osborn reminds that you’re not single-handedly responsible for the success of your relationship. If your partner has ADHD or you live with it, open communication about your experience is key to being on the same page and figuring out solutions as necessary.
“If a partner is dismissive, unsupportive, or actively detrimental, it may be helpful to work with a couples counselor who can navigate through those issues with you as a neutral party,” they add.
Beware of risk-taking tendencies and ensure safety
Becoming aware of your tendencies and putting measures into place to keep everyone as safe as possible can also help. This is true whether you choose to have multiple sexual partners or you’re prone to taking risks with your sexual health.
To do this, Osborn recommends:
- regularly getting tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- sharing your STI status with new partners
- using contraceptives (e.g., condoms, birth control pills)
- saying “no” even when you experience rejection sensitivity
“Unhealthy behaviors occur the most when there’s inadequate support present for the person with ADHD,” says Osborn.
They note that these tendencies, which can affect a person’s relationship with sex and intimacy on their own, could include:
- behaviors that could cause harm
- alcohol or substance use disorder
- compulsive behaviors
Receiving support will help you navigate these challenges to relieve stress or unwanted consequences from them.
Depending on your needs, this could mean:
- taking medication
- seeing a therapist
- joining support group meetings
ADHD can impact a person’s sex life in many ways, including hypersexual tendencies. This could be due to symptoms of ADHD, lower dopamine levels, or medication side effects. But more research is needed to confirm these connections.
If you live with a higher or lower sex drive than you or your partner would prefer, try to remember these friendly reminders from Osborn: “You’re not broken. A desire (or lack of desire) for sex isn’t a moral failing. You’re not a bad person. There’s no need to feel guilty.”
As long as your sexuality doesn’t negatively interfere with your daily life or relationships, try not to worry. But if you live with ADHD and your sex drive is distracting or disruptive, know that support is available for you through therapy, medication, or other means.