A study comparing the sexual interests and practices of individuals with and without Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) found that individuals with ADHD are more likely to engage in a variety of sexual activities, including riskier behaviors, and have higher rates of homosexuality or bisexuality. Females with ADHD especially tend to have more sexual partners and lower satisfaction in romantic relationships. The study was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by persistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that can significantly impact daily functioning. Individuals with ADHD often struggle to sustain attention on tasks, make careless mistakes, have difficulty organizing activities, and may be forgetful in daily life. Hyperactivity symptoms manifest as excessive fidgeting, restlessness, and difficulty remaining seated. Impulsivity can lead to challenges in self-control, resulting in hasty decision-making and difficulty waiting one’s turn.
ADHD is typically diagnosed in childhood but can persist into adolescence and adulthood, affecting academic, occupational, and social aspects of life. Most studies of this disorder focused on children, but studies on adults with ADHD indicated that difficulties in social functioning might be present in adulthood as well. These studies reported that adults with ADHD tend to be much less satisfied with their romantic relationships, they divorce more often, and tend to have more risky sexual behavior as young adults. Individuals with ADHD were also found to masturbate more often, to have more sexual interests, but also more sexual dysfunctions compared to the general population.
Study author Susan Young and her colleagues wanted to further explore the specificities of sexual interests and behaviors of adults with ADHD. They wanted to know whether ADHD is associated with sexual orientation, practices and interests, but also proneness to risky sexual behavior, extra-partner affairs, or relationship satisfaction and how. They conducted a survey.
The study involved 1,466 adults, primarily from Canada (619) and the UK (556), as well as from the USA, Denmark, Turkey, and other countries. The participant group was 62% female, with 5% reporting a gender identity different from their sex assigned at birth. The study excluded participants identifying as non-binary and focused on those who identified clearly as male or female. The average age of female participants was 38 years, and for males, it was 41 years.
Participants reported on any psychiatric disorders they were diagnosed with and on their sexual activity, romantic relationships, sexual history, sexual interests and practices. Overall, the survey consisted of 34 questions prepared by the authors of the study. It was designed and administered using Survey Monkey.
Results showed that 39% of participants were diagnosed with ADHD. These individuals also had higher incidences of depression or anxiety disorders compared to those without ADHD. Other psychiatric disorders were more common among ADHD participants. Younger participants tended to have more severe ADHD symptoms, with females exhibiting more pronounced symptoms than males. Twenty-one percent of participants reported taking medications for ADHD.
Participants with ADHD more frequently identified as homosexual or bisexual compared to those without ADHD, regardless of gender. These individuals were less likely to be in romantic relationships and reported lower satisfaction with their romantic and sexual relationships. Females with ADHD experienced their first consensual sexual encounter at an average age of 16, compared to 17 in the non-ADHD group. No significant differences were noted in the age of the first sexual experience between males with and without ADHD.
The median number of lifetime sexual partners for females with ADHD was 12, compared to 8 for those without ADHD. Females with ADHD were also more likely to engage in extra-partner sexual activities and sex without contraception, differences not observed in males. Individuals with ADHD, both males and females, reported higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases, more frequent involvement in electronic sexual exchanges, and a greater interest in various sexual activities (e.g., sex with strangers, group sex, open sexual relationships, sex clubs/parties, BDSM, etc).
“The findings suggest that both sexes engage in risky sexual behaviors,” the study authors conclude. “However, the risk appears to be substantially greater for females with ADHD. Thus, these findings underscore the need for greater recognition and support for females who present with ADHD symptoms clinically. Using a harm-reduction model, early assessment and intervention of ADHD symptoms may extenuate the noted risks associated with impulse control and psychosexuality. Protective factors such as the education system may also play an important role through regular psychometric screening of ADHD symptoms in youth.”
The study sheds light on specificities of sexual activities and preferences of individuals with ADHD. However, it should be noted that all data came from self-reports that could not be verified and could thus be subject to bias. Given the private nature of sexual activities, it remains insufficiently clear to what extent the observed differences reflect real differences in sexual behavior and to what extent they are simply differences in what participants are willing to report.
The paper, “Let’s Talk about Sex… and ADHD: Findings from an Anonymous Online Survey”, was authored by Susan Young, Larry J. Klassen, Shayne D. Reitmeier, Jake D. Matheson, and Gisli H. Gudjonsson.