Ari Tuckman, Author, Psychologist, Coach
Psychologist and author Ari Tuckman discusses with us how sex and intimacy intersect with ADHD. Ari delves into common sex-related relationship issues ADHD couples encounter and provides an informed perspective with potential strategies, responses, and various factors to consider. Topics range from dealing with the dichotomy between those with and without ADHD, how people’s style of processing information can affect their relationship, introducing new sexual thoughts to a partner, and more.
About Ari Tuckman:
Ari is a clinical psychologist, therapist, speaker, and author.
He has written a number of books including More Attention, Less Deficit: Success Strategies for Adults with ADHD; Integrative Treatment for Adult ADHD: A Practical, Easy-To-Use Guide for Clinicians; and Understand Your Brain, Get More Done: The ADHD Executive Functions Workbook.
Along with Linda Rodley, Ari held a webinar series entitled “ADHD Between the Sheets”
Ari presented at the 2015 CHADD Conference.
Ari is currently conducting a survey on ADHD and sexuality.
Common Issues and Questions:
Research finds about 20% to a couple’s satisfaction. You can live without it, but you’re already starting at a B-
Especially for couples that may be already struggling throughout the day, good sexual experiences are an important part of reconnecting as a couple and maintaining the energy and good will to deal with the more mundane issues that may crop up in daily life.
The most common issue Ari hears is one in which there’s not enough good will between partners. For example, an ADHD partner being harped on for their behavior or the non-ADHD partner being stressed out. Those feelings and lack of good will aren’t sexy.
Too much of the couple’s relationship will then focus on making it though day-to-day tasks and not as much about finding time to be intimate.
Eric: A lot of intimacy can relate to vulnerability, which may mean discussing your personal misgivings and struggles. Without vulnerability it can be hard to be intimate.
As a relationship evolves, in order to keep it interesting and vibrant, it requires partners to open up a bit more. Maybe early on one may have not felt comfortable sharing certain details, but as the relationship progresses it can be good to let one’s partner know what turns them on and what doesn’t.
In a really long-term relationship, one that spans ten, twenty, forty years or more, people change.
Ari: “You’re not the same person twenty years later in a lot of ways. I’d hope you’re not the same person in bed twenty years later.”
There’s a generalization that men feel sex is more important than women, but when it comes to sexual relationships, the sex is just as important to women as it is men.
Ari launched a survey two weeks ago and over 1,500 people have filled it out.
75% women and 25% men responded; 75% were partners with ADHD, and 25% were partners without ADHD.
The survey is limited to those adults currently part of a relationship where one has ADHD and the other does not.
Ari seeks to answer questions with the survey concerning how much of an effect different elements of life with ADHD have on the quality of one’s sex life.
Ari: How much of an effect does pornography, seeking novelty, getting into bed at different times, medication, etc. have on sex lives?
The results will be used to be able to provide better advice to couples, as well as writing, presenting, and training for other clinicians to better tailor their treatments.
Relationships and ADHD:
It’s hard to determine the typical sexual behavior of couples without ADHD. While surveys and empiric data can paint some form of picture with numbers, at some point it may not matter.
Ari: What happens in other households doesn’t matter that much. Referencing others can be useful in terms of providing comfort or permission, but what isn’t useful is when you feel you’re falling shorting or start to form unrealistic expectations.
“At the end of the day, you don’t want to have sex by the statistics.”
Surveys can be useful to inform us of generalities, but it’s important to not just focus on averages.
Surveys can be useful to tell us what is going on, but you need to not just look at the average.
What’s most important is not where you are relative to other couples, but where you are relative to where your partner is.
One topic Eric noticed in Ari’s survey was one of fidelity. Ari felt there was a question of whether those with ADHD had, either currently or in the past, more trouble with fidelity than those without it. In order to address this theory, Ari added questions about fidelity both in terms of mainly physical encounters and more emotional affairs.
Ari: “The better you know yourself, the better you’re going to be sexually. If you don’t know what you like and don’t like, how is your partner ever going to figure it out?”
Knowing your processing style would be one aspect of that. If one responds better to verbal or auditory processes and another responds better to touch, it’s important to understand that when trying to communicate.
Be attuned to your partner — what works for one may not work for the other.
Frequency and satisfaction of sex tends to go down when you have young kids in the house.
For some, it can be challenging switching gears between a parenting mentality and a sensual mentality. In other cases, particularly when dealing with younger children, many mothers may want a reprieve from touching and being touched.
Statistically, as one’s children grow older, sexual frequency and satisfaction goes up.
For some, their sex lives can continue to improve as time goes on, while others may experience a flat-line. When weeks and months go by without sexual encounters, they can become awkward.
Thoughts versus reality:
One person commented “Sex can be so damn hot in my head and so damn boring in bed.”
Ari: What happens between the head and the bed that makes the bed not as hot as what this person is thinking about? How comfortable are they with sharing their fantasies with their partner. If the reason one isn’t sharing their thoughts is because they feel their partner is too judgmental or closes down intimacy and disclosure, it might be a good idea to have a conversation about that.
Ari: Barry McCarthy, a well-known sex researcher says, “You should talk about sex with your clothes on at the kitchen table, not naked in bed.”
Maybe the problem is the person themselves not fully accepting what turns them on. They might feel guilty, embarrassed, ashamed, or weird about it and be looking for reasons in their partner for why they shouldn’t be able to say it.
Alternatively, it could be that the situation playing out in their head is more fanciful than realistic. Still, sharing these fantasies with one’s partner can be kind of hot.
Introducing a New Thought or Preference with Your Partner:
If it’s a substantial topic, go into the situation with the expectation that you may have the conversation multiple times. At least you will have finally talked about it and have a shot at addressing it.
Preface the conversation in an productive way. Mention that it’s important to you, allow that either you don’t know what your partner will think of it, or that they may not be very enthusiastic about it. You want to feel like both of you can bring up topics like these and receive reasonable responses to them.
In terms of having one’s ideas rejected, there is a range of responses. Some may respond defensively, questioning why their partner would have certain preferences. Others may berate themselves or their partner over the request.
There’s also the rejection following a long respectful conversation where the partner admits that they just don’t wish to go in that direction.
Differences in Sex Drive:
Having partners with different intensities of sex drive is a fairly common occurrence.
The partner with the stronger sex drive can showing some leniency in being willing to receive less sex than they would want, or to handle their needs on their own.
The partner with a lower sex drive should also be willing to compromise, whether it would be to help the other partner’s arousal or just be there with them.
Understanding and respecting your partner’s sex drive can even exist in the form of being okay with them not finishing.
ADHD and Novelty:
Ari: What I would predict is that people with ADHD, because they become bored when doing repetitive tasks, will have a higher drive for novelty or will want greater variety in their sexual encounters. That could extend further into being more kinky and adventurous.
Still, there are plenty of people without ADHD that are very adventurous, just as there are many with ADHD who are totally vanilla.
Then there’s a question of whether being more adventurous is good or bad. It can bring more spice to the chili that is the sexual relationship, though maybe certain partners may not enjoy all of the new elements.
If there’s too large of a disconnect between the desire for novelty, they may not feel their sexual needs are being met; dealing with that can be problematic if not handled through negotiation.
For all of its stigma of destroying relationships, pornography is just another factor that can be negotiated out between couples to arrive at a reasonable compromise.
Theories may predict that people with ADHD are more prone to participate in open relationships than those without, but they can be very precarious in terms of people’s boundaries.
How does promiscuity in younger girls with undiagnosed, untreated ADHD influence their sex live as an adult?
Particularly, if they’re feeling bad, guilty, or ashamed about their prior sexual encounters, or have had really negative experiences, those will have an overall negative effect. On the other hand, if they look at it as a learning experience, where they have learned now what they like and don’t like, they might have a generally positive outlook.
Eric: It seems like it’s not so much about what happened or what is happening, but how you think about what happened or is happening.
If a couple has a sex-less marriage, is their relationship doomed?
No, not necessarily. It mostly hinges on mutual agreement between partners. Do they agree with the lack of sex? Where issues arise is when that lack of desire for sex is not mutually held. A partner that feels shut-out can start to shut down in other areas of the relationship, so it’s an issue that would then need to be addressed.
What’s common in the realm of sex-based risk-taking amongst adults with ADHD? What is there to be concerned about?
General impulsivity is common, especially if general substance use (alcohol, marijuana) is a factor. If one is in situations where they could potentially act out sexually, that could be a problem. Maybe becoming less impulsive can be aided by not drinking as much or not placing yourself in certain potentially volatile situations.
How important is an uncluttered bedroom for one’s sex life?
If it’s important to you or your partner, then it’s important. Some material, like work-related clutter or dirty laundry, can become distracting. On the other hand, you can’t always wait for the perfect moment for sex.
During sex some people will have parts of their to-do lists pop into their minds. How much more common is that for those with ADHD?
Some theorize that people with ADHD would be more prone to that situation, while others theorize that, because of the ability to hyper-focus, those with ADHD would be able to focus on sex more intently. It becomes a matter of understanding it and accepting it, whether it’s you becoming distracted or your partner becoming distracted. Maybe if you feel your partner is the one becoming unfocused, you can raise the intensity a bit or start talking to them.
Sex is important for a couple’s relationship satisfaction, but, for example, author David Schnarch makes the case that in the process of creating a good sex life through mature negotiation with one’s partner makes people into better people.
Sex is such a personal and sensitive subject that still needs to be talked about in so many cases. Because of that, in order to truly talk its issues out, one needs to handle it in a respectful and decent kind of way.
Products, Services, and Other Links:
Ari mentioned liking the works of Dr. Marty Klein. His books include Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want from Sex and How to Get It, and America’s War on Sex: The Continuing Attack on Law, Lust, and Liberty.
The “queen of [writing about] the sex-less marriage” Michele Weiner-Davis, whose books include The Sex-Starved Marriage: Boosting Your Marriage Libido: A Couple’s Guide, and The Sex-Starved Wife: What to Do When He’s Lost Desire.
Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, Ronald Cotton and Eric Torneo
Babeland.com, Ari’s recommended online sex merchandise store
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