As a researcher who has devoted most of the past three decades to studying ADHD, I am surprised (and somewhat embarrassed) to see how little research has focused on how ADHD affects the romantic side of life. There are over 25,000 articles about ADHD listed on www.pubmed.gov, but only a few have provided data about love, sex and ADHD. Bruner and colleagues studied ADHD symptoms and romantic relationship quality in 189 college students. Those students who had high levels of both hyperactivity-impulsivity and inattentiveness reported that the quality of their romantic relationships was relatively low compared with students who had low levels of ADHD symptoms. Another study of 497 college students found that ADHD symptoms predicted a greater use of maladaptive coping strategies in romantic relationships and less romantic satisfaction. A study of young adults compared conflict resolution and problem-solving in romantic couples. It found that ADHD symptoms were associated with greater negativity and less positivity during a conflict resolution task and that higher symptoms predicted less relational satisfaction. But this was not true of the ADHD member of the couple only had inattentive symptoms, which suggests that the severity of ADHD symptoms might drive relationship problems. Unlike the studies of adults, the romantic relationships of adolescents with and without ADHD did not differ on levels of aggression or relationship quality, although only one study addressed this issue.
What about sex?
The study of adolescents found that, irrespective of gender, adolescents with ADHD had nearly double the number of lifetime sexual partners. That finding is consistent with Barkley’s follow-up study of ADHD children. He and his colleagues found that ADHD predicted early sexual activity and early parenthood. Similar findings were reported by Flory and colleagues in retrospective study of young adults. Childhood ADHD predicted earlier initiation of sexual activity and intercourse, more sexual partners, more casual sex, and more partner pregnancies. When my colleagues and I studied 1001 adults in the community, we found that adults with ADHD endorsed less stability in their love relationships, felt less able to provide emotional support to their loved ones, experienced more sexual dysfunction and had higher divorce rates.
The research literature about love, sex and ADHD is small, but it is consistent.
Bruner, M. R., A. D. Kuryluk, et al. (2014). “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Symptom Levels and Romantic Relationship Quality in College Students.” J Am Coll Health: 1-11.
Biederman, J., S. V. Faraone, et al. (2006). “Functional impairments in adults with self-reports of diagnosed ADHD: A controlled study of 1001 adults in the community.” J Clin Psychiatry 67(4): 524-540.
Canu, W. H., L. S. Tabor, et al. (2014). “Young Adult Romantic Couples’ Conflict Resolution and Satisfaction Varies with Partner’s Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Type.” J Marital Fam Ther 40(4): 509-524.
Rokeach, A. and J. Wiener (2014). “The Romantic Relationships of Adolescents With ADHD.” J Atten Disord.
Barkley, R. A., M. Fischer, et al. (2006). “Young adult outcome of hyperactive children: adaptive functioning in major life activities.” J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 45(2): 192-202.
Flory, K., B. S. Molina, et al. (2006). “Childhood ADHD predicts risky sexual behavior in young adulthood.” J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol 35(4): 571-577.
Overbey, G. A., W. E. Snell, Jr., et al. (2011). “Subclinical ADHD, stress, and coping in romantic relationships of university students.” J Atten Disord 15(1): 67-78.