In my Neurodivergent Sexuality post, I discussed how sexuality is presented to neurodiverse people particularly for people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), including strategies in addressing sexual behavior and sex education. Of all conditions in neurodiversity, ASD has the most issues regarding sexuality as ASD people can’t intuitively read sexual cues causing them to struggle to find satisfying sexual relationships and becoming prone to sexual harrassment, unwanted pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases. But aside from ASD, people with learning disabilities (LD), ADHD, Tourette Syndrome (TS), language disorders, and sensory processing disorder do also have issues regarding sexuality.
What are the specific issues in sexuality that are presented to each neurodiverse condition?
I enumerated the following problems below:
ADHD – impulsive sexual advances without could make someone be mistaken as a pervert. Not good for romantic relationships. Impulsiveness can be a high risk for promiscuity too and can contract an STD. Inattention, which may be mistaken as being rude or never caring at all may cause strain in a sexual relationship.
According to a Psychology Today article, sex problems in neurotypicals are doubled in people with ADHD: People with ADHD have the same difficulties with sex as people without ADHD, but perhaps more often or more intensely. I call this the ADHD multiplier: the ADHD multiplies the difficulties, but doesn’t really create unique problems that others aren’t also experiencing. Many of the sexual problems for these folks isn’t about sex per se, but about the relationship struggles that undermine a satisfying sex life. This can include making impulsive sexual choices, with all the consequences that that can bring. People who are thrill-seekers (such as some people with the hyperactive and impulsive symptoms of ADHD) are more likely to engage in problematic sexual behaviors, including over-using pornography.
Other problems include:
- Losing focus during sex can cause men to lose some or all of their erection or for women to lose some of their lubrication and can delay orgasm for both.
- People with ADHD will often get bored more easily than others or will more quickly get used to something. Therefore they will seek novelty to re-engage their attention and cause their brain to light up again. Just as it can happen in the classroom, it can also happen in the bedroom. In short, they become easily bored to “vanilla” sex (no, not the 50 Shades stuff). What I mean is they become bored right away with a few repertoire of activities, positions, and/or locations.
- Because of boredom, people with ADHD are more likely to have sexually transmitted diseases and have more sexual partners. People with ADHD may be more likely to cheat.
Tourette Syndrome – strong involuntary tics may interfere with sex causing sexual frustration. Also, some tics may be mistaken as sexual abuse cue, which makes a person with TS mistaken as a sex offender.
Learning disabilities – People with learning disabilities are not much given sex education. It can be difficult to strike a balance between protecting people with learning disabilities from risks and allowing them to explore and develop wider personal and social relationships. Young people and adults with learning disabilities are much less likely to have access to this kind of information because of attitudes towards disability and sexuality, lack of resources and lack of professionals qualified to provide the right kind of information and appropriate support. Like in other conditions in neurodiversity, people with LDs do also find it hard to comprehend appropriate sexual behaviors, i.e. finding a private place for masturbation, reading sexual cues, etc.
- Dyslexia – because they have poor reading comprehension, reading about sex education materials (I didn’t say porn) is an issue; they’ll not learn the very basics of sexuality like orientation, sexual behavior, contraception, and how to’s on building a healthy sexual relationship. Intimacy may be an issue too. Writing (is that still in??)) romantic letters can be daunting as well. Can be a turn-off to a partner.
- Dyscalculia – dyscalculics have problems in distances and timing, which makes him or her find some difficulty in performing certain acrobatic-like sex positions.
- Dyspraxia – like dyscalculia, he or she may also have problems in sex positions thanks to uncoordinated movements. Clumsy hygiene practices are a major turn-off in a potential sexual partner.
Language disorders – Communication is the main issue here. People with language disorders find it hard to express their sexual needs, which may lead also to sexual frustration. Sometimes these people are also vulnerable to sexual abuse because of their language comprehension and expression difficulties.
Sensory processing disorder (SPD) – for people with tactile defensiveness (very sensitive to touch, gets irritated) type of SPD, sex is especially difficult. Since sex involves a lot of touching (yeah I mean a LOT, including kissing, cuddling, fondling…and touching all the way and I have to stop mentioning the obvious details), some people with tactile SPD are averse to sexual activities.
To better illustrate the sensitivity of SPD in the bedroom, I’ll quote an excerpt from YourTango:
Now imagine that you’re a person who is “weird,” “geeky” or “overly sensitive,” but you’re lucky enough to have a long-term relationship. Chances are your partner started out as loving and understanding, thinking that once you started to relax and feel secure in the relationship, you’d be less likely to react to the “little things” that seem to drive you nuts. But it’s been years now, and you haven’t changed. All sorts of things set you off. You’re still so nervous! Your partner has a hard time coaxing you into intimacy too, which she thinks would be helpful for both of you – but she doesn’t know that it’s because you can’t get an erection when your teeth hurt, and the reason your teeth are hurting is because that fresh coat of yellow paint on your bedroom walls puts you so much on edge that you’re grinding your teeth just to stay in the room! She’d think you were just making excuses and over-reacting again. She’d think you don’t really love her if something like a color would keep you from feeling aroused.
The marriage counselor or sex therapist you both saw said that you had to make an effort to be “less selfish” and your partner agreed. You’ve had too many fights about sex over the years, and you’re very afraid of that kind of fight, so you don’t say anything when your partner begins to stroke you, and nothing much happens, so you just pretend you’re tired, and you shut your eyes against that yellow, which still bruises your nerves even though it’s dark, and so both of you go to sleep unhappy and hurt.
Very frustrating, right? And usually the non-SPD partner feels abandoned or unloved or becomes insecure because he or she is ‘not attractive’ to his/her partner.
What to do to solve or minimize problems with sexuality in neurodiversity?
By addressing the specific issues per individual with a learning disability or neurodevelopmental disorder, you will know what strategies to be used to have a better sex life and better understanding of his or her sexuality.
Here are some strategies used per neurodiverse condition:
ADHD – People with ADHD have hypersexuality, meaning an unusually high sex drive. People who are hypersexual want to engage in sexual behavior frequently, often to the point that daily activities are left uncompleted. It is not unusual for people with hyper-sexuality to spend a great deal of time watching pornography, masturbating, or fantasizing because of an increased need for sexual stimulation or to combat boredom. Some people may also have its opposite, hyposexuality (a person’s sex drive plummets and they often have no interest in sexual activity at all). This can be caused by the ADHD itself or as a side effect of medication, particularly antidepressants that are often prescribed for ADHD patients.
Some strategies included from Healthline:
- Mix it Up – Don’t be afraid to try new things in the bedroom to decrease boredom. Discuss ways to spice things up before sex to ensure that both parties are comfortable. Seek a variety of positions, locations, and techniques whenever possible.
- Communicate and Compromise – Discuss ADHD and how it may affect your intimacy and sexual expression. If you know that your partner with ADHD is sensitive to light or sweet smells, for example, turn off the lights and refrain from using lotions or perfumes. Do not be afraid to seek the help of a qualified sex therapist. Many couples coping with ADHD benefit greatly from couples counseling and sex therapy.
- Prioritize – Make it a goal to work on being in the moment. Get rid of distractions and try doing calming exercises together, such as yoga or meditation, so you can learn to be in the now. Make dates for sex and commit to them. Making sex a priority will ensure that you don’t get sidetracked.
Tourette Syndrome – since most people with TS only have mild tic symptoms, most of them are somewhat good with their sex lives. But for those with severe TS symptoms, usually management of TS is included also (for more information about TS management, click the article here).
Learning Disabilities – this is specific for each learning disability.
- Dyslexia – As they struggle with reading comprehension, they usually have intuitive verbal abilities, which makes verbal instruction easier for them. While reading sex education manuals may be difficult, providing pictures, watching a video (not porn) about sexuality and sex education, or talking to a sexologist regarding sexuality may be more okay than reading. For dating gestures, verbal expressions are preferred over written letters. Or just express love to a partner by giving his partner’s favorite objects, flowers/chocolates, or be physically intimate with his partner.
- Dyscalculia – performing acrobatic sex positions is discouraged. Stick with the easier types. This is to avoid miscalculation of distance, which can be a disaster for her and her partner (imagine injuries and sexual frustrations).
- Dyspraxia – never also try hard sex positions because these involve motor skills, which is not good for dyspraxics.
Language Disorders – Instead of telling partners verbally their sexual desires, write them instead to better understand what they want in bed. Or point out to a picture or illustration of an erotic scene so that to avoid conflict. As with language disorders, speech and communication therapy is also important like teaching about sarcasm and nonverbal language so that people with language disorders can distinguish people who want a relationship and to avoid a sexual predator. When reading about sexuality topics, make sure to read and comprehend them slowly to completely understand sexuality. (To know more about language disorders, read my specific language impairment and stuttering posts).
Sensory processing disorder – Because SPD is a very complicated disorder, a complete assessment of SPD must be made. From there, specific strategies are made for a person with SPD to have a better sex life. Consulting a sexologist with knowledge about SPD may be helpful too. Adjusting the external stimuli that can interfere with sexual activity (lighting, room temperature, fabric, type of sex, foreplay, etc.) can also help. More importantly, the sexual partner of an SPD person must be educated about SPD so that he or she can understand and accept SPD as a whole. Alternate forms of sexual activities (like bondage-discipline fetishes for the hypostimulated) can be tried also.
The bottomline here is education about how neurodiversity affects sexuality and strategies used to fulfill sexual needs of the neurodivergent.
Other general tips:
- Having casual sex is discouraged but not prohibited. No, not because of morals or whatsoever religion but because of disclosing neurodiversity. Since casual sex involves people that barely know each other, trust is hard to build and a sexual partner may become agitated when having sex with a stranger with neurodiverse condition. This may be somewhat hard for the neurodivergent as he is at risk of being rejected later (or right away) because the sexual partner, especially if uneducated about neurodiversity, may suspect that the neurodivergent partner is either rude, weird, or conscious, or even crazy. Not good because in the long run, this will make the neurodivergent feel hurt or rejected. A neurodivergent may have casual sex if he or she has milder forms like dyslexia alone but I highly discourage people with TS, dyspraxia, ASD, and SPD from having casual sex.
- Admitting your sexual and developmental history to a partner. This is important to see whether a partner is willing to accept a neurodivergent to be intimate with her or not. Neurodivergent people usually become sexually active later than most people (usually in their late 20s and later; the neurotypical average age of sexual debut is 17) or sometimes never have sex at all. This is frightening but it is better to admit your sexual history as well as your condition to a partner so that she will understand you and be become a better lover to you. Who knows? Some people prefer lovers with fewer sexual partners.
- Do not force yourself to have sex if you do not want to. Sex is one of the human basic needs but is also a preference. Some people are born asexual (meaning no sexual preference or not interested in sexual relationships or activities) and prefer not to have sex. Also if a neurodivergent has a relationship, she should be ready before having sex and her partner must be informed and must respect her decision. If a partner forces her to have sex, that’s already a sexual harassment and should end the relationship and report it to authorities.
- Admitting your sexual orientation – like all human beings, all of us have sexual orientations and preferences. Neurodivergent people also have sexual orientations and preferences. neurodivergent can be heterosexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual. It is possible to be heterosexual (preferring persons of opposite sex), homosexual (preferring persons of same sex), bisexual (attracted to both sexes), or asexual (doesn’t have any sexual preference). It is important also to admit your sexual orientation to better understand your sexuality and your neurodiversity.
- Express your sexual needs appropriately. Yes a neurodivergent can express his sexual needs, but sometimes not appropriately, like offering an indecent proposal to a potential date (stranger not yet a lover or acquaintance except if you want casual sex). He can be branded as a maniac. For those who want a romantic relationship but do not know how to flirt or attract potential partners, do not rely on pornography or romance movies to attract a potential partner because it will make you branded as a sexual predator for imitating porn or you may come off as needy for imitating romance movies and you may attract the wrong partner. Instead, seek help with friends and family and social coaches who are aware of your condition on how to behave and act in dating scene.
- Educate about sexuality and sex education. Don’t worry if you come from a religious, prudish background. Since school is not enough about giving sex education and peers have limited knowledge, search for yourself on the internet regarding sexuality and sex ed. Get from any medical websites and some magazines. A teenage neurodivergent can also get info about sex ed from university websites like Scarleteen and Sexetc. There, you can be educated about sexuality and be prepared to have sexual relationships and activites without much anxiety.
- Use birth control if you’re not ready yet to have a baby. Also, since some States and most of non-Western (actually a strong Catholic or Muslim) countries don’t give access to contraception and you, a neurodivergent, wants to have sex but is not ready yet to have a baby, use birth control. This is also used to avoid sexually transmitted diseases.
I hope that this 2-part blog about sexuality is helpful especially to all neurodivergent people. Again, neurodiversity is part of humanity. Therefore, neurodivergent people also have rights to know and enjoy their sexuality.
- Barkley, Russell, et al (2010). ADHD in Adults: What the Science Says. The Guilford Press. ISBN: 1609180755
- Garcia JR, MacKillop J, Aller EL, Merriwether AM, Wilson DS, Lum JK (2010) Associations between Dopamine D4 Receptor Gene Variation with Both Infidelity and Sexual Promiscuity. PLoS ONE 5(11): e14162. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0014162