This week we’re hosting a frank conversation about sex and ADHD.
Our guest is Dr. Ari Tuckman, a psychologist and certified sex therapist, not to mention one of our favorite expert sources who somehow we’ve never had on the show. Today, Ari is here to talk to us about the impact of ADHD on a couple and how the sexual relationship — and our relationship to sexuality — functions in light of ADHD. The book is the result of years of research and survey responses thousands strong of those living with ADHD reporting their candid experience, and it’s documented in ADHD After Dark: Better Sex Life, Better Relationship.
Links & Notes
Pete: Hello, everybody, and welcome to “Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast” on RashPixel.FM. I’m Pete Wright and right over there is Nikki Kinzer.
Nikki: Hello, everyone. Hello, Pete.
Pete: Hi, Nikki. So, the way we do this show, because of our guests, we actually recorded the interview before we recorded this introduction that you’re listening to right now. And we also live stream this to our members, our Patreon supporters. And I just noticed something that I’m a little embarrassed. I didn’t notice and was not able to make a joke in a timely manner. And so I would like to just at least acknowledge that we just spent 45 minutes talking to our guest today about his new book on sex and ADHD. And on the live stream the entire time, I have had a red light on in the corner of my office and now I can’t stop singing “Roxanne.”
Nikki: I was wondering where you were going with this.
Pete: You get to put on the red light. No, now I am a red light Louisiana brothel.
Nikki: There you are. It’s perfect setting.
Pete: And it was not intentional. Yeah, it’s more of the Halloween vibe I’m going for here. But now the sex thing is there and so forever this will be captured. It was not intentional, but I’m kind of glad I did it.
Nikki: It’s perfect.
Pete: Head over to takecontroladhd.com, get to know us a little bit better. You can listen to the show right there on the website or subscribe to our mailing list and we’ll send you an email each time a new episode is released. And, of course, you can connect with us on Twitter or Facebook @takecontroladhd. And if this show has ever touched you in any way, shape, or form, if it’s ever helped you change the way you live your lives with ADHD, we encourage you to consider at least investing directly in the show over at patreon.com/theadhdpodcast. Now, of course, you get some perks. You get access to our delightful, loving, caring ADHD community. You get access to the live stream of the show, early access to all of the podcasts as they are released. You get all kinds of those things, but mostly, you get the satisfaction that you’re helping this show and the work that we do, continue to grow and thrive. And in fact, as we were preparing for the show, our very guests said today just how grateful he was and how surprised he was at just how robust this community was. Well, it’s because of you. It’s because of those of you who consider what we do important enough to invest in us and become a direct supporter. Again, you can join up at patreon.com/theadhdpodcast. We look forward to welcoming you to this community.
Ari Tuckman is a psychologist, a certified sex therapist and international speaker and author of four books on ADHD. He is often quoted on our show and across the blog at Taking Control ADHD. His newest book, ‘‘ADHD After Dark: Better Sex Life, Better Relationship’’ helps couples with one ADHD partner to improve their sexual and relationship satisfaction. Ari Tuckman, finally, welcome to the ADHD Podcast.
Ari: I know our paths are finally crossing. I’m not sure how we managed to not run into each other these many years, but somehow that has happened and now we’ve broken our street.
Pete: That’s right.
Nikki: That’s right.
Ari: That’s good.
Pete: It is a shame that has been rectified. And what a fantastic topic to introduce you to our audience properly.
Ari: Right. We’re gonna jump right in.
Pete: That’s right.
Ari: No preamble, no foreplay.
Nikki: We’re right there. That’s right.
Ari: Yeah. Right there.
Nikki: Well, welcome to the show and, and you are here for a very specific reason. We wanna talk about your new book, ‘‘ADHD After Dark: Better Sex, Better Relationship.’’ So why don’t you tell us a little bit about what made you decide to write the book in the first place.
Ari: Yeah, so, you know, obviously I’ve been working with ADHD folks for, I don’t know, 20 years now and, you know, seeing folks in my office, I’ve been writing, I’ve been presenting, and there’s a lot to be said about ADHD. But, you know, more and more it’s, you know, kind of our big satisfaction in life often is that about our relationships. And that could be, you know, friendships and family and coworkers and whatever, but it’s also our romantic relationships. And, you know, there’s a bunch of good stuff out there. So like Melissa Orlov and Gina Pera, and you know, like doing good stuff on ADHD and relationships. But the sexuality piece was never really addressed all that explicitly, and yet it’s such a big part of our intimate relationships, which isn’t to say that good sex is gonna save a bad relationship, but you know, it’s sort of like, it’s a missing point of intervention. It’s a way to help couples with one ADHD partner do better and better. And I think that we’ve been kind of neglecting it. I think that, you know, that was unfortunate. So I thought somebody needs to talk about it, guess it’s gonna be me.
Nikki: It’s gonna be you. That’s right. Well, and it’s an interesting approach because the book is based off a survey that you did. So tell us a little bit about the survey, what were the questions, you know, just general.
Ari: Sure. So, you know, in order to write the book, I felt like I should have some research behind it. And, you know, as nobody will be surprised to hear, there’s pretty much nothing on ADHD and sex out there that’s been done other than some like, I don’t know, there’s like studies that show unplanned pregnancies. That’s not really about your sex life, that’s more like the consequences thereof. So I put together an online survey and I sort of went crazy with like more and more questions that I wanted to add. And by the time you got to the end of it, I created a survey with 72 questions. By the time you add in all the sub-questions, you know, which is a terrible idea to create an online survey with 72 questions for people who are not being paid, half of which have short attention span, right? So like clearly, I should not be teaching research methods.
But as it turns out, more than 3000 people filled it out. And actually, at this point it’s like 4,000 people have filled it out. So I think what it says is people are interested in the topic and they recognize the fact that nobody was doing anything on it. So I ask questions, you know, the obvious demographic, you know, who is, you know, is it you with ADHD, your partner, are you male or female? How long have you been together? Do you live together, you know, blah, blah, blah? I asked, how many kids do you have? Stuff like that. I asked about treatment. So which treatments have you tried? How effective do you think they are? How hard do you think you have worked? How hard do you think your partner has worked? Shockingly to no one, those will not give you the same answer. There’s two questions, other, you know, things of that sort in terms of treatment.
And then I asked about relationship satisfaction and a bunch of stuff about people’s sex lives. And having that many questions and that many participants makes it easy to kind of tie that all together and to figure out, you know, for example, what predicts the highest relationship satisfaction or what is a relationship between, I don’t know, porn use and sexual frequency or what’s your relationship between partners treatment effort and sexual frequency. So, you know, we can do all this interesting analysis when you have that much data and it really kind of showed not only sort of how are these couples generally doing, but it also allowed me to pull out, what are the happiest folks doing? Like, the folks who are happiest in their relationship and sex life, what are they doing? Because there’s gotta be some good lessons in there for everybody else.
Nikki: Absolutely. So I had the privilege of going through the book. I’d certainly have some questions for you, but I wanna leave it to you first. Where do you wanna start when you are talking about this book?
Ari: I think where I would start is relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction overlap quite a bit, generally speaking, about like two thirds, meaning however happy you are in one, you’re probably similarly happy in the other or unhappy. So if your relationship is important to you, then your sex life should be important too. And if your sex life is important to you, then your relationship should be important also. Like you can’t work on one and not also work on the other. And also, for any couple, we have all this sort of stresses and strains of daily life. You know, that’s just kind of the way the world works. But so you don’t have to have a good sex life in order to have a happy enough relationship. But couples who have some additional struggles by day have all the more to gain from that good connection that comes from sexual experiences at night or whenever it is that you have them. So, you know, yes, we need to work on getting places on time and yes, we need to work on negotiating, you know, who cleans up the kitchen and when and how, but, you know, like that’s not the stuff that really makes us happy in life. It’s about our relationship and connection to romantic partners. So, you know, it all comes together in other words.
Nikki: So you in the book actually mentioned something that’s called the “power of positive attending.” Tell us about that.
Ari: Let’s start out with the power of negative attending. So if I’m frustrated with my wife about whatever it is that got me going, I’m gonna notice a lot more of this stuff that she’s doing that it kind of pisses me off also. You know, like, oh, you left your plate on the kitchen counter or, you know, why didn’t you call me back? Or you know, like whatever stuff she’s doing that’s kind of annoying me, I will pay that much more attention. So whatever mood you start in, you’re gonna tend to gravitate towards the things that support that or you’re gonna take ambiguous things. They could kind of go either way, you’re gonna round them over to whatever you’re feeling in the first place. So what it means is a couple that’s already struggling, that’s already unhappy with each other, they’re gonna notice more and more of those negative things, even absent anything different happening.
Now, so the power of positive attending is certainly the opposite. In other words, I’m gonna look for the things that my wife does that makes me happier rather than more annoyed with her. So, “Oh, that was really great.” You know, she poured herself a cup of coffee and brought me one also, like, that’s cool. Or, “Oh, I see that stuff that I was kind of annoyed with, she’s kind of addressed it.” Or you know, whatever it might be. So kind of looking for the things that are better in the relationship, looking for that good effort that she is putting in rather than just focusing on the stuff that’s aggravating me.
Nikki: Which really makes sense because if you’re generating that positive feeling, that focus around the positive, you’re going to be more positive about being affectionate and, you know, doing more than just kissing goodnight.
Ari: Yeah, it’s true. It’s sets a momentum. Now, the power of positive attending does not mean rose-colored glasses and ignore problems. You know, like it’s not that, but it’s appreciating what is good about your partner in their relationship. And from that you’re then in a better position to have a more focused conversation on the thing that does bother you. So as opposed to what happens is if we get too black and white, if everything feels bad, then it’s just sort of like and another thing, and another thing, and another thing, and that’s not a productive conversation.
Pete: Nor is it effective in leading toward… I guess I sometimes find that, you know, intimacy can be rehabilitative to those sorts of experiences. Your relationship, like, you can get it back on track if you can find a way, find a spark to climb out of the negative moods. It’s interesting too, the connection. I’ve been sort of mulling over my head and we just had somebody in the chat room ask this question, which I think is just perfectly formed.
We had Bill Dodson on the show a couple of weeks ago talking about rejection sensitive dysphoria and that experience rang so true to so many of our community members and put words to something that they hadn’t really experienced. How do you, or would you describe the connection between sort of the leading indicators toward intimate relationships and sex between couples, one ADHD and RSD? Is that? Because it certainly has an echo of resonance to me.
Ari: Yeah. Yeah. So I actually listened to that episode. First of all, Bill Dodson, always awesome. You know, super smart, totally knows his stuff. Great. So I think that, you know, I mean on the one hand RSD is its own thing and folks who have that tendency, it’s kind of easier for them to go there. But I think, you know, in terms of this sex angle or the general kind of relationship happiness angle, I think it gets a lot easier to go there. It’ll take a lot less if the sort of tone in the relationship is a bit more disconnected, a bit less friendly, that there’s less sort of banter. You know, I think it’s just easier to go there.
And I think that, you know, your comment that sex is restorative is exactly right. Like that’s the gospel I’m preaching here, that, you know, if you can have those good sexual encounters, you begin to have that good kind of playfulness before, during, and after, I think it can provide something of a protective factor against those kind of rejection sensitive dysphoria reactions.
Nikki: So it’s interesting to me too, because at the beginning of the book, I think you put a lot of emphasis on the management of ADHD. And I mean, you even say managing ADHD is an aphrodisiac. I had to say that three times. And again, it makes logical sense, but then at the same time, I don’t think people really think about it like, “Oh, if I’ve got this under control or I feel good about my ADHD, I’m probably gonna feel good, you know, better about my relationship.” I don’t know if they connect that necessarily.
Ari: Right. Yeah. And, you know, it’s interesting because there’s really two levels to this. So on the one hand, there’s the obvious level to the extent that you and me are each putting in good effort on managing ADHD. It’s probably gonna be better managed, you know, so we can reduce the extent to which ADHD is having a negative impact on the relationship. Incidentally, you know, relationship satisfaction is about more than just ADHD, and we’ll get there. But number one, the ADHD part effect on the relationship will be minimized. But the other part that’s equally important is the feeling of teamwork. Like you and I are in this together, I’m doing my part, you’re doing your part. We’re both working on ADHD and incidentally, for both working on ADHD, we’re undoubtedly both working on lots of other non-ADHD things too. So, you know, like that’s really the heart of it, is feeling like you’re on the same team and that both people are putting in good effort.
Nikki: So what would you say to somebody that doesn’t feel like they’re on the same team as their spouse? Like, so a lot of my clients will feel they’re the ADHD client, right? So they will feel like their spouse who doesn’t have ADHD doesn’t understand them. They don’t wanna understand them. They’re frustrated. And they are definitely not on the same team. What advice or what would you say to somebody like that?
Ari: Yeah, so you know, I have these conversations as well. And, you know, the advice that I give to the partner who has ADHD is talk to your partner about how they will be happier in understanding your ADHD. They are not doing you a favor by reading about this ADHD thing. They’re doing themselves a favor. Like, they are in a better position to make things work out more than they themselves want it if they educate themselves about ADHD. Now, you know, don’t give your partner 8 books or 15 YouTube channels or something like, you know, curate it to an executive summary or at least some place to start. But you know, but here’s the statistic to bust out. And this is a thing, like this isn’t even in the book because I figured this out afterwards like by continuing to play with the data. But what I found was that the folks who felt that their partner, regardless of which one of them has ADHD, those who felt that their partner put in the most effort on managing ADHD had sex two thirds more often than the folks who felt their partner put in the least effort. So 92 versus 55 times a year.
That is a difference you will feel, and it’s not just about the ADHD, but it’s that these are people who are probably doing a lot of other things well also. You know, like they’re both working well together. Now, by contrast, some of the folks who felt that their partner put in the least effort were the least happy in the relationship. And again, partially, it’s that the ADHD is less well-managed or it has a bigger negative effect. But it’s also the resentment of like, this is less well managed because you are not putting in your part. You know, like, that’s the part that I think is the most problematic.
Nikki: I just have to emphasize, I love when you said at the very beginning that this isn’t about you understanding me, it’s really about you helping yourself figure out what you need from me or how you need to understand me. Very different perspective than giving somebody a book and just say, “Here, you need to learn as much about ADHD as you can,” right? I mean that’s a really key, I haven’t heard that perspective before, so I’m glad you bring that up.
Ari: So I think it’s just about both partners being on the same page and each person understanding how best to approach the other. You know, and that’s true in any relationship. That’s not just an ADHD thing, but it’s figuring out like how do we negotiate the differences? How do we do this so that we both feel happy with how things work out? So we both feel like we’re getting our needs met even when we want different things. And that’s the part that goes beyond just the ADHD part.
Pete: All right. I am curious to change gears a little bit about what you learned not just about relationships and couples working well together, but how ADHD manifest or how people are reporting that ADHD manifest for the event itself, right? You already mentioned the before, during and after. What did you learn about just that, how ADHD manifests in a sexual encounter?
Ari: Sure. Part of the reason why it was 72 questions is a question in there that asked, you know, to what extent would you rate the following as being a barrier to a better sex life in your relationship? And I had 25 options. Now, what’s pretty cool is the five potential barriers that people rated the lowest were all related to the sexual encounter itself. So stuff like, I’m not interested in having sex with my partner. I don’t feel like I can please my partner, and my partner asks too much or me or stuff like that. So basically, once these folks for most of them actually get to it, tends work pretty well. So let’s all file that idea away. And especially when you’re busy, you know, for any of us, ADHD or not, whatever, it’s just like sex is as great as it is. It’s too easy for it to kind of slide off the back end, you know, and then like, “Well, maybe tomorrow.” “Okay, maybe tomorrow.” “Well, you know, what about this weekend, we’ll try to make it a point this weekend.”
So, you know, to prioritize and make it a thing that happens first and not last. I did find that folks with ADHD do get a bit more distracted during sex. That’s especially true for women with ADHD compared to the, you know, women without or guys in general. So, you know, that is a thing that happens, but it doesn’t need to be a deal breaker. Women in general had a harder time kind of transitioning into that like mental space of like, “Okay, now is the, you know, the naked time.” But again, not necessarily a deal breaker, it’s just a matter of kind of making the time to have enough sort of lead in to kind of get everybody in the mood.
The barriers that I found were the biggest, all had to do with stuff either related to not enough time or energy for sex that it just kind of gets squeezed out, time is used inefficiently, there would be more time for sex if, you know, time was used better or too many bad feelings. I’m too angry with my partner, my partner is too angry with me. You know, my partner is only interested in me, only pays attention to me when there’s sex. You know, stuff like that. So you know, that’s the stuff, there’s bad feelings. That’s the damage done by day that gets in the way of having sex at night and the not enough time and energy is, you know, it’s just sort of like time sort of slips by and is not used well, and we know that’s an ADHD thing, but the partners aren’t working well together to get done what needs to get done.
And then also, by the way, cutting and running saying, yup, kitchen’s still kind of a mess, but we’ll get that at 10:00 if we don’t go up now, ain’t gonna happen. What’s more important, you know, loaded dishwasher or spending some time with my partner. So you know, so to some extent the person with ADHD needs to step up and get things done a bit more. And then the non-ADHD partner also needs to know when to say when and say, “Okay, we can survive a dirty kitchen. Let’s go upstairs.”
Pete: It really sounds to me like the biggest lesson learned is that people need to be having more sex during the day.
Nikki: Or the morning.
Ari: Or the morning.
Pete: This whole like cataloging, you know, sex for nighttime, explore the whole clock.
Nikki: No, I’m cooking.
Ari: No, absolutely. I mean, you know, I think for a lot of people it’s just sort of the logistics work that way. It’s kind of tube. I mean, Marty, there’s a sex therapist, Marty Klein who’s like super smart and he’s written a bunch of books, but he has his line where he says, “Sex is a thing Americans do when they’re too tired to do anything else,” right? And yet somehow we’re not bringing our best to the game at that moment. Yeah.
Pete: What, you know, as a sex therapist yourself, what surprised you in these learnings? Like did you go in expecting to find what you found?
Ari: You know, to some extent, I did and that’s kind of heartening. But there are definitely some things that were surprising. And I think one of…the thing that kinda surprised me the most was, you know, there’s this common chestnut that if folks with ADHD get distracted in general, then maybe they also get distracted during sex and therefore, you know, having sex when the stimulant is working would probably be a good thing. So that was kind of an obvious bit of advice. Now, you know, on the one hand, like I said, folks with ADHD do get distracted during sex with sort of folks without. But interestingly, the data in no way supports an across the board statement to say if you have ADHD, you should have sex while your medication is working. It just, it wasn’t there. You know, like I cannot say across the board that that is good advice. You are one person who really does get distracted during sex to the point that it interferes with really enjoying yourself and being present in a moment and, you know, a little bit of stimulus helps you focus more to just be present, to focus on your body, to focus on your partner. Go for it. You know, because obviously if it works for you, but you know, across the board, we cannot make that as a recommendation.
Nikki: You had mentioned that you talked about like the happy couple. You found that, you know, we wanna know what these happy couples are doing. We wanna learn from them. What did you learn from the… What are these happier couples doing?
Ari: So ultimately, when you boil it all down, it comes down to teamwork. You know, each person is putting in good effort in there and they feel that their partner is putting in good effort and that means, and you know, things like treating ADHD, you know that they’re both putting in good effort, they probably tried more treatments rather than just one thing. So they didn’t just go to their GP, get some low prescription of Adderall and then leave it there. You know, that they might’ve talked to a coach or a therapist, they’ve read some stuff, they’ve worked on lifestyle issues like sleep, diet and exercise.
So you know, like they’re doing more, but also, that sexually they’re more generous to each other. You know, like that they’re willing to put in the effort when they themselves are not in the mood, but their partner is, they work well together. You know, porn use isn’t seen as a threat to the relationship. So, you know, like they’re on better ground. It becomes one of those things where there’s very much a momentum effect in the sense that if you’re working harder, if I feel that you are working harder, then I’m hopefully, if I’m not an entitled bastard, I’m hopefully gonna step up and work harder too, right? But also, because I think you’re working harder, you know, we talked about that positive attending, I’m gonna give you a lot more benefit of the doubt. “Oh, you left a bunch of junk out in the kitchen.” “Well yeah, but you know, I saw you clean up the TV room, so that’s cool.” Like I appreciate that. Or, “I know you spent extra making dinner. That’s good.”
So you know, there’s more benefit of the doubt, but also because I see you working harder, I’m gonna work harder. And because you see me working harder, you’re gonna work harder in return. You know, so it’s all that thing of being on the same team. And you know, the folks who are the least happy are doing the opposite of all of, you know, like maybe they’re putting in good effort, but they definitely don’t feel that their partner is…they’re not getting along well, they’re not having sex, when they do have sex, it isn’t good. There’s just too many things that get in the way of getting that positive momentum going.
Nikki: So when I first got married, I remember watching a Dr. Phil, I think it was Dr. Phil on Oprah, and this was before… This is gonna age me. But this was before Dr. Phil had his own show and he was always on Oprah and he would talk about relationships. And he always talked about like, one of the things that you can tell if a relationship is going to survive is the way that they fight. And I tell you, I mean, I was in my 20s, young 20s, middle…yeah, young to middle 20s. And I still remember that. And I have to say, one of the things that I’m really proud of in my relationship with my husband is we, I have never called him a name. He has never called me a name. We’ve never like yelled at each other like, you know, where your face turns red or any of that. And I think part of it is because that seed was always in me, that you don’t do that with your spouse. You know, it’s not how it works.
So you in the book, and I don’t know if this came from you or if it actually came from somebody that you were referencing, there was three rules about better fighting and I know one of them was fighting respectively. The second was to resolve problems, productivity or, productively. Yeah. I had speech therapy growing up, so it still lingers.
Ari: It’s paid off.
Nikki: Exactly. And moving on from a disagreement, which, boy, that’s tough for some people, isn’t it, is to move on from a disagreement. So I’m just curious, your thoughts about that as well when it comes to connecting and not being mad at each other.
Ari: Yeah. I mean, you know, I mean, I hate to say Dr. Phil was right, but like he was right in this case. You know, the problem in the relationships that struggle is that whatever the topic of the fight is, it doesn’t matter because more damage is done during the fight, right? And then of course it’s not resolved and then you can’t move on because this just like added to the pile, here’s another disappointment in you. And then they don’t resolve the next thing productively either because there’s so much kind of hurt feeling involved on both sides.
So, you know, it’s when ADHD is undiagnosed and therefore untreated, it’s even easier to get stuck in those kinds of fights where both people feel powerless. Partner with ADHD feels powerless to be different and to be the partner they wanna be, but also their partner feels powerless and unable to be the partner they wanna be. And I’ve certainly had, you know, non-ADHD partners in my office say like, “I cannot believe who I’ve become. Like, this is not who I am, and I can’t stop myself.” You know, because both of them feel powerless over, which is why it’s so important for both partners to understand ADHD and why, you know, stuff like this podcast, my books, the CHADD, at ACO Conference coming up in Philly, “Attitude” magazine, like blah, blah, blah, run down the list. Everybody putting ADHD out on the map is so important because it helps give people who previously felt powerless, some sense of power. Like, there is something I can do here to make my relationship better.
Now some of that does involve getting on top of ADHD and let’s minimize the impact it has on each of your lives. But the thing is couples where neither partner is ADHD, they got problems too, right? You know, they’ve disagreements, they have fights, some of which it seem irreconcilable, but so it’s not just about getting the partner who has ADHD to sort of step up to the non-ADHD partner’s way of doing things because that ain’t gonna happen. But to sort of find a place in between, and this is that other part that’s often not talked about as much. Is that the non-ADHD partner, like, yes, they need to sort of assert themselves and say, this is really important to me. Like, I don’t know, you can’t leave our kids on the soccer field at 6:00 when it’s dark out. Like, that’s not a thing I can ever be okay with.
But maybe other things like, there sure is a lot of dirty laundry down there. I don’t know, maybe that’s just the thing that you say, you know what, I’m not gonna make a battle out of that. It’s not what I would do. But like whatever, I can accept that and I can appreciate what else is good about my partner. I’m gonna move on and focus on bigger things.
Pete: This was the Maya Angelou thing that stuck with me. She has the saying blow, bite and blow, right? You blow on the skin to numb it and then you bite and then you blow again so they don’t even know that you bit them, right? And I think about that constantly. What are those little paper cuts that I could let myself get upset about and would I be better served to just not engage? And those things back to the sort of the topic of sexuality, again, those are rehabilitative toward the runway of getting everybody in the mood. The more you let go, the more you’re able to get to it. You mentioned pornography earlier. Let’s talk about some of the insights you learned around porn in couples and their sexual relationships.
Ari: You know, what I found in the data was that, first of all, you know, lots of guys look at porn but also so does a decent number of women. So porn is not just a guys’ thing. And you know, that’s okay. Yes, there were relationships or individuals who were very unhappy in their relationship, who used a bunch of porn or people who are unhappy about their partner’s porn use, but there’re also couples who were really happy in their sex life and relationship and actually felt that their partner’s porn use had a net positive effect on their sex life. So, you know, I’m not gonna defend porn, but I’m also not gonna beat it down. You know, like porn is a mass media, like everything else is a mass media. I’m not gonna defend every show that shows up on cable or Netflix, you know, in the same way I’m not gonna defend every porn video.
But, you know, if you use it in a reasonable kind of a way, it isn’t necessarily a problem, as long as you’re respectful, as long as you and your partner have talked about it. I did find that folks with ADHD looking more porn than non-ADHD folks. So guys versus guys, women versus women. Guys with ADHD looked at, you know, more porn than anybody else meaning non-ADHD guys or women with or without ADHD. And you know, guys with ADHD also tended to have higher sex drives, meaning higher desire sexual frequency. So you know, they’re using masturbation with or without porn as a way to make up for the sex that they weren’t having with their partner. It’s amazing to me how many couples don’t talk about masturbation and then don’t talk about porn either until of course somebody gets caught and then everybody’s upset.
So you know, have some conversation and, you know, there’s something to be said for masturbation as its own experience. There’s also something to be said for masturbation as a way to make up for when your partner’s not in the mood. And if you set a rule you can’t masturbate and you can’t look at porn and all your sexual outlet has to come through me, like that’s a blessing and a curse, you know, then you may not always wanna be the one to have to provide that service if you’re not in the mood. So, but again, it’s about talking about it and coming to something you guys can both feel good about.
Nikki: So you were saying in the book that sex and porn are not addictive. And I had to read that twice because I think in the way society portrays it, you know, you do think, “Oh well, of course, porn and sex are addictive behaviors.” You see somebody who cheats like some public figure who cheats on somebody and they have to go to treatment for it, you know, sex addiction. I mean we’ve heard that before. So I was really curious to get more information about that and yeah, what your thoughts are.
Pete: It sounds like when you start talking about it, it sounds like maybe we came to sex and porn addiction from sort of a parochial kind of consensus building approach that we just…we don’t know how to talk about it, so they must be addicted.
Ari: Yeah. And so this is an awesome topic and I’m really glad you’re bringing it up because if you look at the real science, it does not support the idea that sex or porn are addictive, not in the way that alcohol or opiates or whatever are. You know, there’s a bunch of like junk science that’ll take brain scans and other stuff like that, that seems more convincing, but it’s really not. It doesn’t prove anything. You know, now having said that, there are definitely some people who use porn much more than they should. You know, so there are people who spend hours a day. I would say that’s probably problematic, but you know what, if you’re spending hours a day on Fortnite, I might say that’s also kind of problematic, you know, if it is to the extent of neglecting your other responsibilities or relationships.
But, you know, if you look at self ratings of porn addiction, often it’s correlated with stuff like religiosity. So people who are more religious feel worse about their porn use. So you’ll have someone who looks at porn twice a month and labels themselves a sex addict, you know, because they feel uncomfortable with their sexual desires. They feel uncomfortable with their porn use or they get busted by their partner, or if they’re famous, by a reporter and then they declare themselves a sex addict and then go to treatment rather than saying, “Yeah, I was being kind of selfish and stupid there, probably shouldn’t have done that,” or, “I’ve had a lot of affairs and I need to own up to the fact that I did this really risky damaging thing. But no, I’m a sex addict.” Like it’s a way to kind of get out of it. But I think for a lot of people, I wanna write a blog post on this, but that, you know, there’s this thing where for a lot of people, they feel somewhat uncomfortable with their sexuality, that it’s hard for them to kind of go there to really kind of think about it and just sort of own up to what is sexually interesting to them.
So it feels like this kind of foreign power that takes over them. Like I couldn’t stop myself. The addiction, you know, the addiction took over and I had to look at porn. It’s like, no, you’re looking at porn because you and your wife haven’t really had sex in a while and this is just sort of an interesting thing to you. That’s why you did it. Now, I’m not defending that you should have looked at porn and masturbate and maybe you should have gone up and, you know, talk to your wife about it and gotten your sex life together on track. Or maybe there needs to be a conversation about what role does porn play in the relationship? You know, like, do we feel okay with it? If so, what kinds, if so, when and where, how does this relate to our shared activities? Who doesn’t become a substitute? Etc., etc. But those are like big, complicated grownup conversations to have and it’s much easier to just kind of demonize porn and kind of call it a day
Pete: Assigning this sort of moral value gets in the way of the adult conversations about it?
Ari: It does. Regardless of the topics. Pick your topic. Moralizing is never going to make for a better conversation.
Pete: Right, right. But, but I think that the challenge of, you know, talking about porn and masturbation and like sexual desire in fact at all. Even if you feel like, okay, I’m having these thoughts. As soon as you start having a conversation in your own head where you’re sort of supplanting your voice with your partner’s voice and it’s how easy is it to start judging yourself from their perspective before you even let the words come out of your mouth. Like I totally see how those conversations can be a challenge if you’re not actually practicing.
Ari: This is the thing where first of all being secure within ourself about this is who I am. I don’t have to like all of it. I think we all have parts of ourself that we wish were different. That’s normal and that’s part of good self-esteem, is being able to be honest about our shortcomings. But I think it’s also about having a history with your partner. And this goes back, Nikki, to when you were saying about, you know, being able to find, well, that, you know, to feel like I can be honest with my partner and say this stuff even if they have a bad reaction. You know, like, I’m not gonna hang my self-esteem on how they feel about this or I’m not gonna pretend to be something I’m not if they feel differently. And this is what real sort of hard but grownup intimacy looks like. I am who I am. You are who you are. We’re not the same. And that’s okay.
Nikki: You know, it’s interesting cause when you were talking about, well, this is what came to my mind, is the affair. So say that you have a man or a woman who’s having a lot of different affairs, it could be very easy to say, “Oh, I’m a sex addict, that’s why I’m doing this.” But what I’m getting, or what I’m interpreting is that maybe that person just doesn’t want to be in a monogamous relationship. They can’t be, that’s just not who they are, but they’re married. And so the conversation then is not just about the cheating, and maybe you’re not a sex addict, this is just what you want. Having that conversation of really what’s happening here and figuring out, you know, do you stay together or do you separate? I mean, is this something you can live with? Is it not something you can live with? You know, again, you’re just bringing up all these different perspectives for me, Ari. Thank you.
Ari: I am. I am. It all ties together. So yeah, I mean I think to throw the label sex addicts on it, it sends you down a whole different path from a treatment perspective as opposed to let’s say like if you have had multiple infidelities, let’s take a look at why, like what is going on there? You know, what are you doing with your affair partners that you can’t do with your main partner. Like, why are you not meeting some of those needs there? Like do you not feel comfortable being honest about the kind of sex that you wanna have if it is about sex or if it’s more about the emotional piece, like what’s getting in the way of having that with your partner? And does that mean that you need to be more honest and vulnerable and say, “Look, this is really important to me, I need to be getting more of this from you?” Or are you scared of your partner’s reaction? Like, are you not sure that they’re able to give you that or that they’re not gonna handle it well, if you bring it up? You know, like dah, relationships are hard. They’re really hard.
Nikki: You have to talk to each other.
Ari: I know. And not just talk, but like honestly talk. So yeah, I mean it gets really hard. I think that in general, simplistic ideas or not, they don’t cut it. Whether it’s something like sex addiction or whether it’s like, you know, about ADHD, like, well, if you just tried harder, I think you’d be able to blah, blah, blah. Or if you love me more, you wouldn’t leave your shoes in the living room or whatever. You know. And it’s just like life is more complicated than that.
Nikki: Well, and I really like in the book how you have different sections where you’re asking questions like, here are some questions you need to ask yourself. Here are some questions you need to ask your partner. And it really does dig deeper into those conversations of what you want, what you need. And I also really appreciate in the book where you’re very open about it doesn’t, you know, porn is not bad. If you both agree and you both are okay with it, great. If you wanna have an open marriage and you both agree with it and you’re okay with it, great. Like, you know, you’re really trying to figure out. Well, in the book you’re helping people, I think, figure out what they want, what they’re comfortable with, and it’s okay. You know, with what their desires are, what they want. It’s not a one-size-fits-all.
Ari: And that’s definitely true. When somebody has ADHD, it’s just sort of like, I mean it’s all part of the same, which is I don’t get to vote on your relationship. As long as it works for both partners, then it’s okay as far as I’m concerned. And, you know, like it’s easy when one partner has ADHD to kind of say like, “Oh well, the neighbors, like they do this in their relationship,” and it’s like, “Okay, cool. I’m glad that works for them.” Unless you are also in that relationship, it doesn’t matter, you know. So it’s easy to sort of get more realistic about, you know, our friends and neighbors, their relationships seemingly as we can tell from the outside, it looks like this. Our relationship therefore should also look the same. But if one person in a couple has ADHD and might be that it looks a little bit different, or if you’ve got a kid or two with ADHD, it might look a little bit different. But as long as it’s working well, then that’s okay. You know, so I think being flexible enough to figure out what’s gonna work well for your relationship and for your family at this point in time.
Pete: Curious as we get to wrapping up, if you had any sort of statistically relevant or resonant response from the trans respondents or gender non-binary. Any lessons that even as we, you know, try not to have a gendered conversation about it? I’m curious.
Ari: Yeah. So when I put the survey together, which was like 2015, so this was a while ago that I put it together and then I had to gather data and then I had to write it. In the survey, I did make it open to same sex couples and I did get some respondents. I didn’t get enough though that I could do any meaningful analysis. So unfortunately, that is a project for another day. I think, you know, I’m just gonna make the obvious statement. I think a lot applies equally to same sex couples and some of it doesn’t, you know, like they are similar and they’re also different. But any two relationships are also gonna be similar and different, you know.
Pete: And that’s a delightfully politically safe response, too.
Ari: Right. So, but I do believe it.
Nikki: Yeah, it’s true.
Ari: In terms of trans folks, I didn’t have any questions in there about it, you know. Again, that would be an interesting angle to take. You know, in a purely selfish way, I’m actually, I was somewhat relieved not to have enough same sex couples because then I’d have to do, you know, three times as much analysis. Because first I had to do heterosexual, then I’d have to do gay, then I’d have to do lesbian. So I’ve got like, you know, I just, you know, doubled my work or something. So whatever that math is. So we usually start with like the biggest, most obvious population, the stuff that’s gonna apply to the most number of people. And then from there you sort of narrow it down to the smaller subsets. So you know, considering there are zero books on ADHD and sex, so at least now there’s one.
Nikki: Right, right.
Pete: Congratulations. Yes.
Ari: We’ve made infinite progress from zero to one.
Pete: Pioneers take the most arrows, Ari. Pioneers take the most arrows.
Nikki: Well, and going from just a chapter in a book to a book, which is also a big deal. So what about two ADHD people in a couple, would that still apply to this information or is that also kind of a project for a different day?
Ari: So, both. You know, I did not, in the survey, I did limit it to one partner with ADHD rather than two. And I think that some of the dynamics really are different and, you know, there can be in some ways I think a greater empathy of like, “Oh, yeah, you’re forgetful also.” “Okay, I get it.” You know, and yet at the same time, like somebody has gotta pay the bills, you know, somebody’s gotta buy groceries. So, you know, what I find sometimes is that couples would one partner with ADHD, one without, they still sort of divide out into the one who’s a little bit more like the ADHD way and the other one’s a little bit more the non-ADHD way, you know, or one tends to be the more responsible one or whatever. You know, so some of the dynamics will then be more similar in that way.
Nikki: Right. Right. Yeah. Because I think a lot of what you talk about is just relationship-based. It’s not necessarily, I mean I know you talk about the ADHD and it’s a huge component, but I think anybody that even anyone reading it is going to get good information from it and learn from it.
Ari: Yeah. Well, and I feel like, you know, I sort of, this line I use that ADHD doesn’t invent new problems. It just exacerbates the existing ones, you know, so like, or the universal ones. So like every couple has to negotiate out different desires, different preferences, different, you know, means of getting from A to B. It’s just when there’s some ADHD in the mix and especially if the other partner is very like non-ADHD, it’s just a bigger chasm to cross in some ways. Now, you know, the good news is there’s a complementarity to that. You know, and as again, as I say, like you don’t need someone like you, you’ve already got that covered. You know, like you need someone who’s gonna bring different skills to the party. So like we do want a partner who compliments us well, the trick is to get the benefits of the difference and not get tangled up on the differences.
Nikki: Right. Right. One of the things that you suggest, and I think this is a great opening for people to talk about this, is you encourage the readers to actually do the survey themselves and have their partner do the survey and then come together and talk about it. I think that’s just a great starting point because I think, I mean, this is just such a big issue, right? There’s so many layers to it and if you’ve been in a relationship that’s been difficult for whatever reason, it’s hard to know where to start and that feels like a good place, is taking a survey.
Ari: Yeah. And that really was my goal. I mean, obviously I wanted to collect data that I can then use as the foundation of the book so that I could offer something that was really much more accurate and valid, but I really did want the people who took this survey to benefit from it. You know, like that I asked a bunch of questions and it might spark some thought of like, “Oh yeah, you know, I haven’t really thought about that.” That kind of, “Huh, maybe that’s something I need to think about or maybe that’s something I need to talk to my partner about.” So yeah, I mean I really did want this to be beneficial kind of across the board and couples don’t talk enough about sex generally. So, you know, that’s a topic that changes over the years and decades. I think you’ve gotta keep talking about and keep working at it.
Pete: What a delightful subject to continue to practice at everybody. Let’s go practice especially during the day. That’s what we’ve learned.
Ari: Yes, definitely if you can swing it. You know, my big thing here is that relationships are important in that if your romantic relationship is important, especially when we talk about long term, your sex life needs to be an important part of that. Now, that doesn’t mean quantity, like quantity matters much less than quality, but that there is that playful energy, that there’s a bit of the spark, there’s a bit of that sort of shutting out the rest of the world sometimes so it’s just you and your partner. And you know, it’s really easy to have that just sort of fall off. But, you know, the couples who do well in the long term are the ones who make it a priority. They don’t find themselves in a situation where they’re having sex, they like make it happen and they have direct conversations about it. How do we get each other in the mood? How do we get over the bumps so that we can feel good about each other? What’s pleasurable to you at this point in your life or at this point in your cycle or in this point in whatever. What else do we wanna try? That they’re able to be honest and open and vulnerable in really, you know, make it a priority that is not just about the sex, it’s about the relationship overall.
Pete: That is a beautiful way to wrap it up. Where are you sending people to find the book? Obviously, we’re gonna put links to Amazon and where else?
Ari: If you go to my website, adultadhdbook.com, I have information about all of my books. I’ve got some free chapters. I have links to past presentations I’ve done on ADHD in general, as well as ADHD and relationships. I’ve got, you know, information about upcoming presentations, all of that. So adultadhdbook.com is your place to find everything I got going.
Pete: That’s standard. ‘‘ADHD After Dark’’ is the newest book. Check it out. Links in the show notes. Absolutely a delight to have you join us today, Ari Tuckman. I hope you will come back. I’ve got more things I wanna talk to you about.
Ari: Yeah, definitely. Let’s do it. Now that we finally know each other, like that we’ve actually spoken.
Nikki: That’s right.
Pete: That’s gonna be easy.
Nikki: Door is open all the time.
Ari: The door is open, exactly.
Pete: Thank you everybody for downloading and listening to this show. We appreciate your time and your attention. On behalf of Nicky Kinzer and Ari Tuchman, I’m Pete Wright. We’ll catch you next time right here on “Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast.”