Okay, so I subject that I have yet to get to that is a big topic of discussion in the bipolar world is the idea of sexuality, either hyper or hypo. It is maybe the second most common question asked by a doctor during a cycle. It is maybe the most frustrating part of cycling, and it can be one of the most impactful on your relationships.
Fair warning, I’m going to talk about my sex life. If you don’t want to read about this, stop here. No good will come from you going forward. I will not field questions of comments about your opinions of my sex life, I do not care what you have to say. You have been warned.
First, the basic stuff: bipolars tend to get hypersexual during mania and hypo-sexual during depression. Both of those things tend to be some of the earliest and most clearly defined symptoms of a cycle. This is why I say it is not only a common question from doctors, but one of the very most common questions.
Hypersexuality can be a lot of fun, obviously, as long as you have an outlet, and that outlet can meet your needs. Infidelity is high amongst bipolars and this is precisely why. Your partner can’t keep up, or you don’t want to go to your partner so often that they think you are crazy, so you look elsewhere. Or very plainly you get tired of being with your partner, or you need an added rush to the experience. I personally have never been in that position before, any of them actually. Hypersexuality has been part of my experience, but I have always had a healthy outlet, whether it be a woman, porn or in more careless and desperate situations, phone sex (by the way, spending money on this stuff goes hand in hand with my biggest issue in mania, over-spending, it is like getting off twice). I have had strong and seemingly uncontrollable urges. I have had to relieve myself in unusual places under strange circumstances. I have been so focused on my next orgasm that I could think of literally nothing else.
But I never got to a point where I had a hook up that was short-lived or regrettable. Thankfully. I am far too embarrassed of my body and my lack of real sexual experience to take that kind of thing on.
Most of my close friends probably see me as a hyper-sexual person. I make jokes and say whatever is on my mind. I am not shy about asking questions, or having conversations. Most people would be surprised how low my ‘number’ is, and even more surprised to know that only few very long term girlfriends got to that point with me.
Hypo-sexuality is the opposite of course. Libido and appetite are said to be the first things to go when depression sets in. As a male, not only are you not interested, but it is not possible. Problems initiating, problems finishing, either way it makes the depression worse. It becomes incredibly easy to distance yourself from people when you are depressed, and if you no longer have the ability to be intimate, you can distance yourself much further.
I do not know the experience for a woman. But as a man, not being able to be sexually ready and competent really hits your masculinity hard. A lot of my issues that cause me depression are already ‘masculine’ problems. I have a hard time feeling like a man, this is probably my greatest issue. Yay gender stereotypes!
Much like hyper-sexuality, this is not a large part of my experience. But I am able to get past it and perform on a regular enough basis that it isn’t a huge problem for me. My problem is actually sort of the opposite. In a lot of ways I wish this affected me more. When I am very depressed, but I still have close to normal libido, I tend to use sex as a way to avoid the darkness. I feel good during an orgasm, or even the work-up to it, and so whenever I feel bad I just go and do that if possible. It isn’t unusual for me to masturbate four or five times a day during deep depressions, alternating between that and sleeping all day long. A lot of the time it is close to the only thing I enjoy doing for months on end.
Some people might read that and assume I am hypersexual when I am depressed, which isn’t quite right. I don’t feel a compulsion towards sex during these times. I just get enjoyment from it. The compulsive nature of hypersexuality is what makes it dangerous.
I have understood the correlation between my libido and my mood for close to 15 years now. I have a firm grasp on it now (can I say no pun intended there?). I know that what I do may be deemed as unhealthy or whatever moral thing you want to throw on top, but I feel like I am doing my best not to hurt anybody, especially myself and my wife.
I didn’t mention it, but it is the sexual partners that ride this ride as much as us bipolars. I’m sure it is confusing and maybe even scary for them to not only watch, but have an actual experience with it in real time. They have to suffer through scarce times, and they probably have to suffer more (and worry about fidelity and health) through the abundant times.
I also didn’t mention the role of medication on this whole game. First, most pills make it difficult for a man to initiate sex, mine certainly do. And in the past, mine have crushed my abilities. Second, as mood stabilizers keep your mood even keel, they keep your sexuality the same way. At times I have to plan out when I am going to take my pills because there is a short window before they begin to weigh me down. It is not fun starting when you won’t be able to finish. It isn’t just frustrating to me, but also my wife who has to wonder what she is doing wrong. My current medications do not make it that difficult to have a normal sex life, but you have to consider your timing.
It can be difficult to make healthy decisions regarding sex at the moments when you are least capable of making decisions and are most compelled to take action. That describes both ends of the cycle, where sex is a big part of the emotional equation.