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Got Dopamine? Sex and the ADHD Woman

Greig's Caves, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, Canada
Greig’s Caves, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, Canada
Photo Zoë Kessler, 2009

You think you’ve got sex problems? We want too much. We don’t want any. We’re halfway to heaven, a fly walks across the wall and we’ve lost it.

As if living with ADHD wasn’t problematic enough, our symptoms often (or, more likely, nearly always) interfere with our sex lives as well.

If sex, as they say, is 90% in the mind, imagine my surprise when I cracked open Naomi Wolf’s new book, Vagina: A New Biography (2012), to find Chapter 4 was all about the brain chemistry of sex.  What really got me excited was the title: “Dopamine, Opioids, and Oxytocin.”

Given that, I hoped Wolf’s book might provide a few keys to unlock more satisfying sex lives for women (and possibly for men, too) by understanding our ADHD brain’s decreased levels of dopamine.

Wolf is not writing about women with ADHD specifically. Still, she says,

“A woman with low dopamine will have low libido and depression, as we have noted.”

Reading this, I couldn’t help but think of the high numbers of women who are diagnosed with both ADHD and depression. It also brought to mind the women with ADHD who have told me that they’ve never experienced orgasm. Could this too be related to low dopamine levels?

It’s important to remember that, like other ADHD traits, we’re all different. Some of us (I’m not naming names) have no trouble in the libido department. Still, some – perhaps many – suffer the double trouble of low dopamine and low libido. Perhaps the research cited in Wolf’s book has twice the relevance for women with ADHD.

Get your motor running

Wolf’s Chapter 4 reads almost like a treatise on ADHD treatment (prescribed and self-administered).  She writes:

“You activate dopamine’s release in various ways: aerobic exercise, taking drugs like cocaine, socializing, shopping, gambling – and having good orgasmic sex.”

Exercise is said to be one of the best all-time treatments for ADHD. Cocaine? It’s often used unwittingly as a substitute for legal stimulants when ADHD has not yet been diagnosed.

Shopping and gambling? Both of these can become addictions for a woman with untreated ADHD looking for her next dopamine hit. Good orgasmic sex? That too has been known to be used to fulfill an ADHD woman’s diet for dopamine. (Or so I hear.)

While Wolf doesn’t make the connection between these behaviors and ADHD, she does cite experiments in which dopamine is given to rodents who were addicted to cocaine, morphine, or heroin. After their dopamine levels were increased, the rat addicts used less of the drug they were addicted to, and showed fewer withdrawal symptoms. In us, treating ADHD safely can circumvent addictions to unhealthy behaviors or substances.

A word of caution

It seems, from reading Wolf’s chapter on dopamine, opioids, and oxytocin, that increasing our dopamine levels to normal might in fact improve sex drives and love lives.

On the other hand, we need to be careful about how we get our dopamine hit.

“Of thousands of different chemicals, just a few – alcohol, cocaine, and other opiates and narcotics – boost dopamine.”

So too, I might add, do legal ADHD stimulant medications.

Wolf also inadvertently addresses some ADHDers’ attraction to using intense activities to self-medicate:

“Highly stimulating versions of ordinary behaviors also boost dopamine, which is why exercise and pornography can be addictive.”

The jury’s out

Considering most ADHD research doesn’t take women’s unique physiology into account, we’re a long way from understanding the connection between women’s brain chemistry, ADHD, and sex.

In lieu of a book targeted to our “special” brains, I’d recommend taking a look at Vagina. Wait, that didn’t sound right… You might as well read Naomi Wolf’s well-researched book, Vagina: A Biography. If nothing else, you’ll appreciate your quest for dopamine on a whole new level.


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Got Dopamine? Sex and the ADHD Woman

Zoë Kessler, BA, B.Ed.

Zoë Kessler is an award-winning author, journalist, and speaker specializing in women and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD / ADD).

A frequent contributor to ADDitude Magazine, Kessler has also created video, standup comedy, and guest blogs on ADHD and Marriage covering ADHD-related topics.

Zoë, an internationally recognized ADHD expert, has been interviewed on radio and featured in magazine articles, documentaries, and books on the topic of women and ADHD across North America.

Her newly-released memoir ADHD According to Zoë - The Real Deal on relationships, Finding Your Focus & Finding Your Keys (New Harbinger Publications, 2013) about life with ADHD is now available.

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APA Reference
Kessler, Z. (2013). Got Dopamine? Sex and the ADHD Woman. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 Feb 2013
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