Sexuality and ADHD

attention sexuality May 30, 2002

As Director of the Center for Healing the Human Spirit, I have integrated a variety of methods into my practice for working with clients on issues of communication, sexuality and ADHD, to enhance the quality of their lives. I offer you the following…

The portrayal of so-called “appropriate sexual behavior”, according to certain magazine articles, movies or TV, is that the sexual urge is always there, it’s lusty, people are ripping off their clothes and ready to go at a moment’s notice, there are extended sexual and/or sensual sessions with great satisfaction for everyone and…… complete attention focused on one’s partner. If you are measuring your relationship by this kind of experience, you might be feeling that you or your partner are inadequate, because your sexual urge is very different. It begins in your mind and emotions first, rather than in your body.

According to the theories of sexuality at one of the hypnotherapy schools I attended, there is both “emotional” and “physical” sexuality. We each have elements of both, with one being more dominant in its expression than the other.

There is no “better style” of sexual expression – “emotional” or “physical” – just different “styles” of becoming aroused.

First, a little about the complexities of sexuality without AD/HD, and then we’ll add in AD/HD. I will be using examples of extremes in order to demonstrate a contrast between the two styles.

“Physicals” use their body in order to be okay in the world. They like to have physical contact more often, need alot of physical reassurance in order to not feel abandoned or rejected, and in case of an argument, might seek to make up by having sex or intimate time together before they could be ready to talk about the argument issues. The primary love relationship is the number one priority for them, and when they are hurting in that relationship, they are deeply hurting in life.

“Emotionals” use their emotions first in order to be okay in the world. They need to feel okay in the relationship emotionally before they can be sexual or intimate with their partner. They feel most vulnerable in their body, and would have to talk out the situation of an argument first before they could move forward to intimacy. If the emotional hurt was too severe, they might shut down for an extended period of time and withdraw physically. This is often seen as being frigid or impotent by the rejected physical.

Sexual Style…”The Approach”…”Physicals” Strip their clothes off, jump into bed, immediately aroused and ready to go. Touching of erogenous zones or any specific sexually sensitive area is completely okay with them and welcomed immediately. Touching in the direction “toward” sexually sensitive areas is pleasurable. Snuggling after is deeply satisfying.

Sexual Style.”The Approach”…”Emotionals” Sexuality begins in the mind not the body. Nice environment…e.g. music, candles, and comfortable conversation to set the mood. A back massage or foot massage is relaxing. Immediate touching of erogenous zones or any specific sexually sensitive area is too abrupt of a transition and not welcomed. Touching in the direction “away from” sexually sensitive areas is appreciated until the person’s body is relaxed and receptive to sexual stimulation in a more direct fashion. Snuggling is brief, and then time to move on. Treating your partner as if they are like you in “sexual style”, without that information, is heading directly for disaster.

Opposites tend to attract and so it is highly likely that an “emotional” will end up with a “physical”. It is quite possible that two “physicals” would end up together, especially with ADHD as an added feature, because of all the excitement. It is highly unlikely that two “emotionals” would end up together, especially with ADHD as an added feature, because of all the boredom that would frustrate the ADHDer.

To add a little more confusion to the mix, in the newness of a relationship, both people act more like “physicals” than their true nature. “Physicals” are even more physical and “emotionals” are acting like “physicals”. They can only sustain this for a limited time, until the honeymoon phase of the relationship is over, and then everyone returns to their true self – which can result in a feeling of rejection or abandonment for the physical.

So now let’s add in ADHD, since what I’ve been talking about so far are issues of sexuality that are relevant for the entire population and not specifically to people with ADHD. So, if you are challenged with ADHD, you might have some or all of the following sexuality challenges in addition to the issues I’ve already mentioned:

  • Inattention and daydreaming
  • Hyperactivity
  • Reduced proprioceptive input through hands, lips, etc.
  • Hyperfocused on what they are doing or want
  • Impulsivity
  • Need for immediate gratification
  • Timing issues
  • Missed cues from the partner
  • Keeping it interesting
  • Possible minimal compliments or conversation about sexual interaction and/or their needs and yours
  • Verbal blurting out – “in the head and out the mouth”-especially damaging to “emotionals”

Inattention and Daydreaming

If these are your primary issues, kind of fading in and out, you are not going to be tracking wht going on in the interaction with your partner. Some people talk about making their grocery list in their head while they are laying there and other things are going on. Their mind just wanders off , especially if the sexual interaction has gotten stale or routine. An AD/HD mind seeks stimulation, and it’s easy to get distracted when what you’re doing isn’t holding your attention. It’s important to notice something interesting going on between you and your partner. Some people might assume that sex and intimacy would automatically be interesting, but for some people it’s just not that way. If you drift, you miss the moment, and perhaps something very important.

Missed Cues and Hyperfocus

Assuming that all of your body parts and systems are working correcting and providing accurate feedback to you, it is still possible to miss the moment by misinterpreting it. If you’re not paying attention, then your ability to notice whether or not things are moving too slowly or too quickly between you and your partner, whether or not your partner is even enjoying what is going on, and whether you’re even noticing your own reactions to what you are experiencing is greatly diminished.

It is possible to become so hyperfocused on the sexual interaction that the ADHDer loses track of any cues from their partner. Attention goes to a thought such as “this is what I am going to do – this is what is going to please my partner”, and it’s as though they have tunnel vision. Of immediate concern is the fact that someone could get hurt. If you’re not paying attention, you could be overstimulating your partner rather than pleasing them, which might result in them pulling away rather than coming closer for more intimacy. They are protecting themselves from physical harm, especially “emotionals”.


Part of the hyperactivity is the “physical” treating the “emotional” like a “physical”; wanting to have the sexual experience move more quickly than it can in a mixed relationship. Too hyper can become too aggressive and lead to discomfort. Itís important to just slow things down, because the “emotional” needs the time to become comfortable in order to fully participate.

Minimal Compliments and Conversation

Particularly with “emotionals”, they’re not real big on conversation while being sexual because their body is what’s vulnerable and they need to focus on what’s happening to them, especially with ADHD. They need to focus on their body, focus on their feelings, and focus on the interaction so they’re not drifting off. And if they are with a partner who is particularly talkative, and wants to talk about what they’re feeling, and how are you feeling, and is this good for you, and on and on and on…the internal thoughts might be “come on, I’m really trying to focus on being in my body, and with all this chatter, I’m getting distracted, and can’t relax into the experience and get comfortable emotionally”.

Impulsivity and Need for Immediate Gratification

Moods can swing from desire to disinterest in very short periods of time. Sex was interesting a few minutes ago and then something else became more interesting. The conversation might be: “Yeah, I’m really in the mood.” The excited partner rushes home to be met with a disinterested partner. “But you said…” “Yeah, but I don’t feel that way anymore”. “But I couldn’t get here any sooner”. “Sorry, I don’t feel that way anymore…maybe later.” This kind of occurrence is important to negotiate and discuss at a non-sexual time because it can lead to great rejection and resentment in the relationship.

Reduced Proprioceptive Input

Sometimes people’s hands, fingers, fingertips don’t seem to be receiving or comprehending the feedback they are receiving accurately. If this is the case, then the person is not having a full sensory experience, and may in fact be getting misinformation. It may feel like your touch is not too heavy, not too intense, and yet it is too intense for your partner. Taking the time to really look at your partner.. have meaningful eye contact…really observe your partner’s body and notice how their body is reacting…all can help to compensate for the inaccurate information about how you think or feel their body is reacting.

Your touch may be very gentle and yet the gentleness may be interpreted as ticklishness, especially around or near the erogenous zones. If your hands, fingers or lips are not giving your the feedback you need in order to have a pleasurable experience, observing your partner can help to fill in the experience.

So… that the issues are on the table, it’s time to talk about solutions.

It is relatively simple to undercover the existing problems. What is important in order for change to occur… is to step into the solutions. So, what are the solutions? The following of suggested as a place to begin the journey:

  • Understand your partner’s sexual style. Sit down and talk about the nature of “physical” sexuality and the nature of “emotional” sexuality and what you are both going to do to get your own needs met and meet the needs of your partner.
  • Make the conversations relatively brief, direct, frequent, and at non-sexual times, especially if your partner is very inattentive. The information won’t make it to long term memory and you will frustrate yourself with repetitious conversations.
  • Be open-minded enough to adjust your style to be in rapport with your partner and they with you. Take the needs of the other person to heart and meet them for a win-win situation. This does not mean that you need to become codependent. This does not mean that you need to give up who you are.
  • Rapport has to do with “sameness”. It is feeling, knowing, hearing that you have been understood.
  • Come to understand that there is nothing wrong with your sexual style or that of your partner.
  • Develop Sensory Acuity and Awareness. Take time to focus in for short periods of time – little playful exercises with your partner, where you try something new, something different and pay attention to the feedback you get – even for only 5 minutes. “Wow, I never saw that about my partner before. I never saw their face look like that. I never saw them move their body like that. I never heard them say that to me. I never heard them tell me that this is not good for them, this doesn’t work for them”.
  • Be aware of sensory overload and slipping into a state of trance. It happens often for many people.
  • Develop new pathways and imprints for proprioceptors. Little, mini exercises. What you are looking for is how accurately do your fingertips give you feedback from what you are touching and experiencing – warm, cool, grooves, curves, etc.
  • Good communication. Learn to understand and be understood. Literal and inferential styles of taking in information are important.
  • Be compassionate and understanding. This is a “no judgment” deal. We are who we are. It’s about learning about ourselves and learning about our partner, so we can get along and we can have the most satisfying relationship that we are looking to have.
  • If you take the time to understand your partner, understand the people in your life… you have a foundation. Then you have the opportunity to be understood and to express yourself, your needs, your wants, your desires, and your dreams.

Enjoy life! This is not a dress rehearsal!