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The Impact of Bipolar Disorder on Sex

By Kimberly Read

Updated May 23, 2014

Sexual relationships can be impaired by bipolar
Deux / Stone / Getty Images

Sex is an important part of our lives – a very important and yet complicated part of our lives. Our culture is steeped in sexual messages and references attests to this, from the subtle ad campaigns implying we will be more desirable with whiter teeth or if we drink mojitos, to the neon-pink erotic café billboards along the highway screaming “We bare all!” Feeling lonely and sexually deprived? There is a country-western ballad that shares your feelings. Feeling primal and dirty? Any number of Nine Inch Nails songs can rock your mood.

Our complete immersion, willing or not, in competing sexual themes amplifies the sexual frustration and tension that is actually quite normal for everyone. When we are in monogamous relationships, we question if our needs are being satisfied, if maybe there is something more or better. When we explore our sexuality and actively seek gratification, we may feel our behavior is loose or even immoral. When our sex drive is low or sex is infrequent, we question our attractiveness and value.

For those with bipolar disorder, the mood swings and the complications of treatment far too often push these normal tensions to extreme behavior and dysfunction. Mania often leads to hypersexuality and, for some, sex addictions. Depression and medication side effects can kill libido bringing sex to a grinding halt.

Hypersexuality

Hypersexuality means being excessively interested or involved in sexual activity. Dr. Cynthia Last, author of When Someone You Love Is Bipolar, writes, "It's not unusual for people in manic episodes to experience a heightened sense of sexuality. This by itself isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. The problem is that during mania an increased libido doesn't occur by itself; it typically gets paired with gregariousness, poor judgment, and impulsivity, which together can trigger sexual behavior with far-reaching negative consequences."

As we discussed in Sex Sex Sex and More Sex, hypersexuality is one of the things that can ruin a bipolar person's marriage or committed relationship. In these days where sexually transmitted diseases can kill, unrestrained hypersexuality can also be deadly. Not every person who has bipolar disorder experiences this, but for those who do, it may be a serious problem. Finding the right combination of medications to control mania is an essential step toward keeping hypersexuality from becoming destructive.

Loss of Interest in Sex

Depression can kill the sex drive. It is not uncommon for those with bipolar disorder to go for months or even years with little to no interest in having sex. How can this impact your partner who is bipolar? Dr. Last details several contributing factors:
  • Your mate feels physically unattractive (old, ugly, fat) and sexually undesirable.
     
  • Your mate feels vulnerable or fragile and can’t handle intimacy right now.
     
  • Your mate no longer pays attention to his or her grooming and isn’t comfortable relating on a sexual basis.
     
  • Your mate is withdrawn and wants to be left alone.
     
  • Medication side effects have decreased your mate’s sexual desire or interfered with his/her ability to achieve erection/orgasm.
     
  • Your mate is feeling exhausted and doesn’t have the energy for the exertion that sex requires.
     
  • Your mate can’t experience pleasure from anything right now, including sex.

Finding Balance

As with pretty much everything in our lives, finding balance is the answer. I know! Not an easy thing to accomplish. But two things will greatly help – the right medications and honesty with yourself and your sex partner. Be frank with your doctor about any sexual issues you are having. Even minor or short-term adjustments to your medications can help. If you are wondering whether one or more of your medications might be affecting your sex drive, look them up in our Side Effects Library.

Cory Silverberg, the About.com Guide to Sexuality, offers insight into How To Talk to Your Partner About Your Sexual Issues or Concerns "Whether we are in a brand new relationship or have been married for forty years, when it comes to talking with our partners about sex, panic can often set in. When we imagine the potential for rejection and drama, taking a risk like that with someone we love can often feel too great. This is probably the reason so few of us do try to share the really difficult stuff of our sexual lives." His article presents ideas on raising those hard-to-raise issues.

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