Bipolar Disorder & Sexual Health

Written by Kelly Connell, PhD and Valencia Higuera | Published on May 13, 2015
Medically Reviewed by Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE on May 13, 2015

Sexuality can swing back and forth with the mood changes of bipolar disorder, but our sexuality expert offers tips about what you can do to maintain a healthy sex life.


Bipolar disorder, also called manic depressive disorder, is a mood disorder. People who have bipolar disorder have high levels of euphoria and depression. Their moods can go from one extreme to the other, and then back again. Life events, medication, or recreational drug use can trigger mania or depression. Both moods can last anywhere from a few days to a few months.

Bipolar disorder can also affect sexuality and sexual activity. You may have periods of hypersexuality during a manic period, and then lose interest in sex during a depressive episode. These sexual issues can create problems in relationships and lower self-esteem.

Sexuality and Mania

Hypersexuality means having an acutely increased interest in sex and more frequent sexual urges. Other signs of hypersexuality include:

  • unable to achieve sexual satisfaction despite a lot of sexual activity
  • out of control sex drive
  • multiple sex partners, including strangers
  • excessive masturbation
  • having continuous affairs and putting relationships at risk
  • inappropriate and risky sexual behavior
  • sex being used as a “painkiller”
  • sex doesn’t provide emotional satisfaction
  • preoccupation with sexual thoughts
  • increased use of pornography

Hypersexuality is a troubling and challenging symptom if you have bipolar disorder. According to the Sexual Medicine Society of North America, anywhere between 25 to 80 percent of people who experience mania also experience bipolar hypersexuality. It also appears in more women than men.

Teens and younger children with bipolar disorder may display inappropriate sexual behavior toward adults. This can include inappropriate flirting, inappropriate touching, and heavy use of sexual language. Some adults ruin their marriages or relationships because they’re unable to control their sexual urges.

Sexuality and Depression

You may experience the opposite of hypersexuality during a depressive episode. This includes low sex drive, which is called hyposexuality. There’s a connection between hyposexuality and depression. Depression very commonly causes a lack of interest in sex.

Hyposexuality often creates relationship problems because your partner doesn’t understand your sex drive issues. This is especially true if you have extreme mania with hypersexual behavior, and then suddenly experience depression and lose interest in sex. Your partner may feel confused, frustrated, and rejected. Bipolar depression may also cause sexual dysfunction. This includes erectile dysfunction in men.

Medications that treat bipolar disorder might lower sex drive. You may consider stopping your medication as a result. However, stopping medication can trigger a manic or depressive episode, so consult with your doctor before making any changes.

What You Can Do

Sexuality issues caused by bipolar disorder are often a forgotten aspect of this mood disorder. These issues are sometimes overlooked or not addressed by doctors.  

There are things you, your partner, and your doctor can do to better understand and deal with sexuality issues:

1. Be informed.

Doctors can educate themselves about how bipolar disorder affects human sexuality. It is important for you and your partner to understand the sexual side effects and get help from your doctor.

2. Recognize symptoms and triggers.

Learn how to identify symptoms of mania and depression. Symptoms of depression may include sadness, loss of interest in activities, and fatigue. Mania symptoms may include racing thoughts, increased energy levels, engaging in risky behavior, and unusually high self-esteem. You should also be aware of situations that trigger your mood swings. For example, stress and alcohol might bring on depressive episodes.

3. Learn the side effects of medication.

Ask your doctor about antidepressants and alternative therapies that don’t have sexual side effects. There are medications available that help people with bipolar disorder to have a healthy sex life.

4. Understand sexual health issues.

Understand the consequences of your actions and protect you and your partners from unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV. This is especially important during periods of hypersexuality, or if you have multiple sex partners.

5. Talk about your feelings.

Talk with your partner and discuss how bipolar disorder may affect your relationship.

6. Get professional help.

Therapy is also beneficial. This can help you and your partner overcome sexual issues. Individual and couples therapy are both effective.

The Whole Truth

It’s sometimes difficult to treat sexual issues caused by bipolar disorder.

You might feel indestructible during a manic phase and not concerned with the consequences of your actions. It may be difficult to think clearly during a depressive episode. You might be apathetic about sex or upset by a loss of libido.

Getting bipolar disorder under control is the first step to improving your sex life. It’s easier to address these issues when your moods are stable. Many people with bipolar disorder have healthy relationships and satisfying sex lives. The key is working with your doctor to find the right treatment and talking with your partner about any sexual issues. 

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