ADHD Couples

Smell and Intimacy in ADHD Relationships I11 Oct

Robert Wilford, Ph.D. and Sarah Ferman, Psy.D., L.M.F.T.

Individuals with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) can experience a wide variety of symptoms: difficulty concentrating, poor memory, inattentiveness, and hyperactivity, among others. The tendency for ADHD patients to get distracted occurs in a number of contexts, but is perhaps most devastating when it comes to connecting with their partner.

The most important person in your life is usually your partner or spouse, and one of the most meaningful and special ways to share your love is to be intimate with him or her. Unfortunately, it can be hard to enjoy intimacy when you’re not fully present in the moment. An ADHD patient suffers from the inability to filter incoming stimuli. In other words, it’s exceedingly easy to get distracted.

Distractions can take many forms, but one of the most powerful of all distractions is right under your nose. More than other individuals, ADHD patients are highly sensitive to sensory input, and that is especially true with smells. When you and your partner are ready to get intimate, the last thing you want is for one of you to be distracted by something else. This possibility might seem a little frivolous to someone without ADHD, but a smell can grab an ADHD patient’s attention and refuse to let go.

Imagine that it’s a nice day outside, and you’ve decided it would be fun to ride to work. When you mount your bike and start pedaling, you hear a strange click. You see that the gears are a little rusty, and every time you do a full revolution with your pedals, it produces a sharp clicking noise. If you don’t have ADHD, you might notice this noise and make a mental note to get it checked out—and then, you’d just ignore it for the rest of the ride. In this same situation, individuals with ADHD would find it very challenging to ignore that little clicking sound as they ride their bikes to work. It would be hard to concentrate on the beautiful scenery or the nice weather. Instead, it would just be: Click! Click! Click!

This tendency to get distracted by incoming stimuli applies to smells, too, but it’s even more pronounced. Smells are highly potent. Recalling a certain smell can take you back decades, like the smell of Grandma’s special fudge or the smell of your first date’s perfume/cologne. For the ADHD patient, no matter where in the house you are, if you detect a strong smell, it’s always there in the back of your mind. You find it difficult to concentrate on anything else while you still notice this particular smell, including making love to your partner. That’s not only a serious problem for the ADHD patient, but also profoundly depressing.

So, what can you do to fix it? First of all, communication is key. It’s important to be open and honest about the problem. If you or your partner has ADHD and feels acutely sensitive to smells, be sure to discuss it in a nonjudgmental manner. Be clear with each other that the issue of sensitivity to smell exists, and that you’re both determined to find a workaround or solution.


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Most medical doctors who treat ADD/ADHD do so as part of a larger practice. ADHD Specialists focuses primarily on only treating ADD and related conditions. This intense focus allows us to continually sharpen our clinical skills, attend specialized training, utilize the latest therapies, and build our process to meet the specific needs of our clients.

Often medical, testing and counseling services are all separately owned and located practices. It just does not make sense to have to travel from one location to another to treat the same condition. Besides the issue of time and travel, how cohesive and effective is care being delivered in multiple locations by multiple, unrelated providers who don’t have time to talk to each other?

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