If you’re an adult male these days, chances are that you’re struggling with some health issue, mental, physical or otherwise. Some conditions are fairly tolerable — some you won’t even notice. But when you get a gnarly combination like ADHD — attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — and sexual dysfunction, well, things can start to feel off.
ADHD and sexual dysfunction are both fairly common complaints among adult men (we’ll get to the numbers in a moment) and when they overlap, it can lead to some questions for your healthcare provider, like whether one can cause the other. It makes total sense: if treating one will make them both go away, why not strategize for that treatment first, and minimize the amount of care you need?
If you’re struggling with ADHD or dysfunction in sexual behaviors, and think you may have some overlapping symptoms, you probably have these same questions. The first thing to know is that there is some overlap that might affect your treatment options, and understanding your conditions better might help you more effectively treat them.
But let’s start with the most obvious question: what’s the relationship between sexual dysfunction and ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of this era’s most poorly understood conditions. It may make you think of untamed and hyperactive children screaming in otherwise quiet settings, but this condition is far from just a catchall for wild behavior in kids. It can manifest in anyone at any age, and doesn’t really require overt hyperactiveness to cause problems.
ADHD symptoms include impulsivity, difficulty focusing, forgetfulness and other problems that can cause issues and challenges to the demands of everyday life. These symptoms can also spill over into the bedroom and your relationship with sexual partners.
Studies have shown that more than a third of male patients with ADHD (and more than 40 percent of women) had issues with sexual function. Researchers have therefore concluded that dysfunction during sexual activity and sexual disorders generally are highly prevalent in adults with ADHD.
That study went so far as to recommend screening for sexual disorders as part of a standard diagnostic assessment for ADHD.
That’s good news, especially when you consider how sexual dysfunction can crop up unexpectedly in adult ADHD patients.
Sexual dysfunction is not a symptom people commonly associate with ADHD, and yet for many people, it very well could be the most significant set of symptoms.
Because people with ADHD may have a variety of psychological issues that affect relationships and behaviors, it can be easy to overlook the sex questions amid the larger questions that affect public, day-to-day activities.
A person with ADHD is likely to experience several sexual dyfunctions and resulting consequences. Let’s look at a few.
Studies have routinely found that people with ADHD experience higher libido, more sexual desire, and a higher frequency of masturbation than their counterparts. While this might sound good to some people, the reality is that it often results in a lower level of overall satisfaction, increased levels of risk taking, risky behaviors and impulsive behavior, and more sexual dyfunction.
Sex lives are affected by ADHD. Studies have found a correlation between ADHD diagnoses and lower satisfaction levels in intimate settings. One study from 2020 found that people with ADHD had less sexual satisfaction than the general population.
ADHD often comes with a higher risk of fear of intimacy. Two studies exploring college students in China and the U.S. found that people with more symptoms of ADHD had measurably greater reports of fears of intimacy than their fewer-symptomed counterparts.
Believe it or not, ADHD might be the cause of higher divorce rates in certain cases. A study found that patients with ADHD had a higher mean of total marriages but that spouses of ADHD patients reported a lower level of overall satisfaction than people whose sexual partners did not have ADHD.
People with ADHD have what is often referred to as a “pattern of chronic underachievement,” which can lead to depression and insecurity issues. Since depression and insecurity issues are the cornerstone of psychologically-driven erectile dysfunction, there’s plenty of reason to believe this could translate to bedroom issues.
To get the right treatment, first you need a diagnosis. Experts say that a proper diagnosis of ADHD is key to getting the ball rolling in the right direction — it leads to better treatment, better management, and it can help educate the person with ADHD and their partner about what’s going on, and what to be aware of in terms of symptoms.
Therapy is generally a good idea for people in romantic relationships with ADHD, or for ADHD in general. One caveat is that traditional forms of marriage counseling may fall short if there’s undiagnosed or untreated ADHD in the mix.
If therapy isn’t enough, most experts agree that medication can be a sort of light switch change for people suffering from ADHD, which can also benefit the relationship. Many doctors prescribe stimulants for the management of ADHD.
Still, ADHD may not be your only issue, and it’s important to consider other options, particularly when you consider the other ways your body and mind might be working against your sexual desires.
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Aside from ADHD treatment, your healthcare provider might target the lifestyle, chemical and psychological causes of erectile dysfunction with a variety of treatments.
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The issues with self esteem, intimacy and self confidence that might also be causing the wrong kind of friction between you and your partner can be aided by therapy. A mental health professional can help you find the right form of therapy for your individual concerns.
Finally, your body may simply need a tune up after all those years of strange eating habits and other behaviors that can come with ADHD. Healthcare professionals will advise better sleep, better diet, more exercise and fewer forms of self medication like alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs for your sexual health and your overall health.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of those mental disorders than can affect all parts of your life, from your learning and professional behaviors to your sexual behavior and sense of connection with partners. The sexual side effects and potential side effects of ADHD on your quality of life aren’t something you can ignore without repercussions.
If you’re struggling with sexual dysfunction or ADHD, or both, this is the part where we tell you what you’ve likely read a dozen times already: go see a doctor.
Both ADHD and sexual dysfunction are treatable medical conditions, and in both cases you’re far more likely to see improvements from professionally guided treatment.
A healthcare provider might treat your ADHD first, or they might treat the sexual symptoms. They may treat neither and refer you to a mental health professional for tailored support.
Until you get that support, this condition isn’t likely to get better — in fact it might get worse.
Do the right thing for your mental and sexual health today. Consider using our resources and talking to a healthcare provider now about your options.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.