ADHD’s Relationship with Compulsive Sexual Behaviour
ADHD and compulsive sexual behaviour disorder may seem entirely dissimilar at first glance. However, a deeper look reveals the two are highly correlated.
Some in addiction recovery may find that although they’ve stepped away from alcohol and drugs, they find themselves stepping towards high-risk or excessive sexual behaviours. Is it possible that ADHD was at the root of both addictions all along?
This article takes a look at the connection between ADHD and hypersexuality. For those grappling with compulsive sexual behaviour, it may actually be a byproduct of a primary condition of ADHD.
Read on to gain an overview of ADHD and the many ways it can manifest. Discover the effects of ADHD on sexuality, and some of the treatment options available to treat both ADHD and compulsive sexual behaviour disorder.
What is ADHD?
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a disorder marked by patterns of inattention or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interfere with development or daily functioning. The primary defining characteristics of ADHD are inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. ADHD can be diagnosed in children as young as 3 years of age, with symptoms continuing into adulthood.
Many other physical conditions can have similar symptoms to ADHD, including anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and stress. Therefore, in order to determine whether the condition at present is ADHD, proper evaluation is essential. In order to be considered ADHD, symptoms must be chronic and ongoing, must impact the person’s daily functioning, and must cause a developmental delay.
The signs and symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Before looking at some of the signs and symptoms of ADHD, it’s important to note that the symptoms of ADHD can change over time. Children who are diagnosed with ADHD primarily display markers related to hyperactivity-impulsivity. Teenagers with ADHD may present more symptoms of restlessness, such as fidgeting. Adults with ADHD can find themselves struggling with attention, restlessness, and impulsivity.
As previously mentioned, the primary characteristics of ADHD are inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Below is a breakdown of how these symptoms may manifest in an adult with ADHD.
The signs and symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD):
An adult struggling with inattention due to ADHD may do the following:
- Become easily distracted, either by thoughts or something externally
- Be forgetful in regard to daily tasks, such as errands or chores
- Miss important details, or not pay attention to detail with school work or office work
- Have trouble following instructions
- Not paying full attention when being spoken to
- Lose things frequently
- Not sustain mental focus for a certain period of time, or for long enough to complete a task
Those who have ADHD and struggle with hyperactivity-impulsivity may struggle with the following:
- Having a hard time waiting for their turn
- Fidgeting excessively
- Talking excessively
- Interrupting other people when they are talking
- Answering someone’s question or providing their own though before the other person has finished speaking
- Being constantly on the move
The relationship between ADHD and compulsive sexual behaviour
At first glance, these two conditions – ADHD and sex addiction – may appear unrelated. However, recent studies demonstrate that there is indeed a high correlation between the two.
Research has shown that approximately 67% of people with hypersexuality reported patterns of ADHD. Results from an anonymous survey conducted on over 14,000 participants revealed that the higher the levels of ADHD symptoms were, the higher the levels of hypersexuality were, too. These findings appeared to be consistent for both males and females.
Symptoms of ADHD are highly correlated with excessive use of pornography, particularly in men. Men appear more likely than women to engage in pornography use to cope with their ADHD symptoms. Previous studies have indicated that generally, pornography use is more normative for men than it is for women. Women, it appears, are more likely to turn to other sexual behaviours, such as sex with a partner, in an effort to cope with their symptoms of ADHD.
In some cases, those with hypersexuality struggle with an inability to focus for an extended period of time due to the nature of intrusive thoughts relating to sex or sexual fantasies. In these cases, the symptoms of ADHD may be present due to the primary condition of compulsive sexual behaviour disorder.
Another theory, proposed by Dr. Rory Reid of UCLA, offers that hypersexuality in those with ADHD may not be a result of one of the defining characteristics of ADHD, such as impulsivity. Rather, he offers that people who struggled with ADHD in childhood also struggled with low self-esteem and poor self-concept. These children then become adults who self-medicate via sexual behaviours in order to cope with low self-confidence, or the trauma they endured as a child diagnosed with ADHD.
What are the effects of ADHD on sexuality?
The connection between ADHD and sexuality doesn't necessarily mean that someone with ADHD desires more sex. In fact, it could also mean the opposite. The various symptoms of ADHD impact individuals in very different ways. This can thereby affect their sexual behaviours or lack of sex drive.
Broadly speaking, the effects of ADHD on sexuality can fall into two categories: hypersexuality and hyposexuality.
ADHD and compulsive sexual behaviour
Research shows that ADHD can lead to symptoms of hypersexuality or compulsive sexual behaviour disorder. Hypersexuality can look like an increased sex drive, or it can look like engaging in high-risk sexual behaviours.
Some of the reasons why ADHD might lead to hypersexuality:
- Those with ADHD have a constant need for stimulation. This can prompt them to seek something new or constantly seek something to satisfy that need.
- Research shows that those with ADHD are more likely to engage in risky behaviours, including substance use. The increased likelihood of engaging in risky behaviours can lead someone to engage in risky sexual behaviours. Additionally, alcohol use is highly correlated with adolescents with ADHD who engage in risky sexual behaviours.
- People with ADHD and hypersexuality may use sex as a means of coping with the stress and anxiety that they experience as a result of their ADHD.
Although many people with ADHD experience hypersexuality, others may experience the opposite, known as hyposexuality.
ADHD and hyposexuality
Hyposexuality can refer to a decreased sex drive. It can manifest in different ways, such as an inability to experience an orgasm or difficulty desiring sex. Unfortunately, the symptoms of ADHD can lead to hyposexuality, causing difficulties for those diagnosed and their partners.
Below are some of the reasons why ADHD might lead to hyposexuality:
- Some people with ADHD experience hypersensitivity. This hypersensitivity to things like touch and smell can cause them to feel uncomfortable or become distracted during sex, and makes it difficult for them to enjoy it.
- ADHD can make it difficult for people to be present and focused in the moment. Their thoughts may wander to other things, which their partner may become aware of as well. This can make it difficult for either person to enjoy sex, and can cause intimacy issues.
- Issues with sex can arise as a side effect of medications that are prescribed to those diagnosed with ADHD.
- When someone has ADHD, they may struggle with day-to-day tasks that their partner then ends up taking care of for them. This can leave the partner responsible for doing additional household chores, paying bills, and cleaning up, and can eventually build up and lead to resentment. This resentment can make it difficult for either partner to desire or enjoy sex.
It’s evident that ADHD can have an impact on sexual behaviours. That being said, is there a treatment for ADHD and sex addiction?
Treatments for ADHD and compulsive sexual behaviour disorder/sex addiction
Correct diagnosis and treatment for ADHD and compulsive sexual behaviour disorders are vital in effectively treating both. It's important to identify whether the symptoms of ADHD are related solely to compulsive sexual behaviours, or if they also existed before hypersexuality began.
It’s essential to treat both elements of co-occurring disorders. Treatments will focus on all aspects of the being, including the mental, emotional, physical, social, and even spiritual components.
Individual therapy can be used to help work through compulsive sexual behaviour disorder and to manage symptoms associated with ADHD. The most common form of psychotherapy used to treat symptoms of ADHD is cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT. By attending individual therapy, those with ADHD are able to learn how to improve their self-esteem and self-concept, how to change negative thinking patterns, how to regulate and manage their emotions, how to develop organisational skills, and even how to improve relationships.
Individual therapy can also be highly beneficial for those struggling with compulsive sexual behaviour disorder. By working specifically with a sex therapist, individuals can understand what drives their compulsion for engaging in excessive or high-risk sexual behaviours. Individual therapy can also help individuals work through any trauma they may have endured. It can help them learn how to regulate and understand their thoughts and emotions, and develop new, healthy thinking patterns.
Another great treatment option to help with ADHD and hypersexuality are support groups. Today, there are a myriad of support groups available for both ADHD and for hypersexuality. Support groups are available in person or online, and are a great way to connect with others who are sharing a similar experience.
Living with ADHD and hypersexuality are both incredibly isolating experiences. Those suffering often feel misunderstood and live with a fear of judgment and shame. Support groups allow those with these diagnoses to truly see that they are not alone in their struggles. Support groups allow individuals to make friends and connections with people who truly understand them, and have similar goals in terms of their well-being.
Additionally, support groups are a great place to learn about the disorder, whether it’s ADHD or sexually compulsive behaviour disorder. Both of these disorders are deeply nuanced and often misunderstood. In a support group, individuals can learn more about both general components of their disorder, or about the more subtle nuances they face. Gaining this knowledge can help provide solace in knowing that what they’re experiencing is not abnormal and that it is part of their condition.
By attending support groups, those newer to the recovery journey have the opportunity to learn from those who have already experienced significant growth and healing. Some support groups to explore are SMART Recovery and SAA, or Sex-Addicts Anonymous.
Couples therapy is a great treatment option for those who are facing interpersonal discord brought on by ADHD and sex addiction. As previously mentioned, the symptoms of ADHD can lead to hypersexuality or hyposexuality. Either of these can cause intimacy issues for partners. Additionally, living with a partner who has ADHD can bring about additional stressors, whether it has to do with day-to-day tasks, problem-solving, or communication.
In order to foster and maintain a healthy relationship, couples would benefit from attending couples therapy or marriage counselling in an effort to build understanding and improve communication. Couples therapy can help individuals build empathy, learn problem-solving skills, and develop ways to work together to maintain a strong relationship with one another.
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Author - Thurga
- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Relation to Addictive Behaviors: A Moderated-Mediation Analysis of Personality-Risk Factors and Sex
- Study: Adult ADHD symptoms play important role in hypersexuality and problematic pornography use
- Effects of ADHD on Sexuality
- Working Through ADHD and Hypersexuality in Relationships
- Attention Deficit Disorder and Sex Addiction: What’s the Connection?
- Should Hypersexual Disorder be Classified as an Addiction?
- Compulsive Sexual Behaviour
- Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)