In heterosexual couples, it matters which partner has ADHD. According to new research that I have recently published, when the woman has ADHD, the two romantic partners are a little bit happier than when it is the man who has ADHD. More notably, they have sex 25% more often—73 vs 59 times per year. That seems like a difference you would feel.
This data comes out of an online survey that I created that looked at various aspects of the sexual and relationship satisfaction of couples with one ADHD partner. The survey consisted of 72 questions and elicited over 3,000 respondents. (I did previous posts on how ADHD treatment effort affects sexual frequency and on sexual eagerness, and I'll continue to share the results in future posts.)
Is ADHD Different for Men and Women?
My reading of the research is that ADHD itself isn’t really that different between men and women, but how it impacts men and women can be different. For example, if two people are six feet tall, they have exactly the same height but would likely have a very different experience of that height depending on whether they were male or female. There are many other differences between men and women, some based on biology and some based on societal roles and expectations, which interact with ADHD to determine its impact.
A guy who forgot a friend’s birthday likely wouldn’t feel as badly about it nor get as much grief as a woman who did. A lifetime of these sorts of experiences for women with ADHD may fuel self-doubt about her ability to be a good enough friend if her friends expect this kind of attention to personal details.
Life Is Different for Men and Women
How ADHD impacts someone’s life depends on both their ADHD and also the rest of their life. Since gender has a large effect on our life experiences, it also has a large interaction with ADHD. Although gender roles have loosened somewhat over the last decades, there are still differences in what is expected of men and women in heterosexual couples. For example, it is not that uncommon that a woman contacts me to set up an appointment for her male partner with ADHD and that she then joins us for some or all of those sessions. By contrast, I get very few calls from guys for their female partners and they don’t usually join us for sessions.
Women still tend to be the caretakers and coordinators of the couple and the family. As a result, they tend to have a disproportionate share of the housework and childcare responsibilities, even if both partners work.
If her male partner has ADHD which makes him less reliable about doing his share, then some of his duties fall to her which exacerbates the existing imbalance. If she herself has ADHD, she will still feel that same expectation (spoken or unspoken) to manage those responsibilities, but have her own struggles with doing so efficiently. In both cases, this can be a set up for the woman to feel more tired and resentful if she feels like her male partner isn’t doing enough on these responsibilities.
Sex Is Different
As I mentioned at the top, the couples with the ADHD woman had sex more often than when it was the guy who has ADHD. I see two main reasons for why this is.
In my ADHD Relationship Sex Survey, I asked respondents to rate the extent to which 25 potential barriers got in the way of more frequent and/or enjoyable sex. The non-ADHD women rated more barriers as being problematic and also tended to rate the impact of those barriers as greater. For these women, this double-whammy dampened their sexual desire for their partner, more so than these potential barriers did for the guys with or without ADHD or the women with ADHD. The non-ADHD women seemed to feel these barriers more acutely and the resulting reduced desire became something of a limiting factor in the couple’s sex life. I will discuss these barriers in more detail in my next post.
The second reason the couples with the ADHD woman have more sex is that those with ADHD tend to be more sexually eager (see my last post). Therefore, although the women with ADHD may also feel that additional stress of keeping up on those obligations at home (and also in the rest of their lives), they start out with a stronger desire for sex than the women without ADHD.
So these women with ADHD start out higher and then have fewer barriers to pull down that sexual desire. At the level of group averages, this creates a convincing explanation for why these couples have sex more often than the couples where the guy has ADHD.
Make It Different (And Better)
There is a lot about society and gender role expectations that is slow to change. However, you and your partner can do things differently if you choose to. One of the recommendations that comes out of my data is that couples should discuss how they divide housework and child-raising obligations—especially if one of the partners is feeling resentful about it. You may not care that much about it, but if your partner does, you may not realize how much it is impacting something you do care about.
Much of this is universal to any couple, but ADHD can exacerbate this common dynamic. If untreated or insufficiently managed ADHD is negatively impacting your relationship and sex life, then that is probably a worthy point of intervention.
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