birds, bees and big booties – bipolar disorder and sex

CW: alludes to non-consensual sex in paragraph 5

I’m at a junction in life where I’ve been reflecting on the people that I share my body with. I take sodium valproate for my bipolar disorder. I recently ran into problems getting it in the UK because this drug causes severe birth defects, which I learned when the pharmacist stopped dispensing my medication to me. I was already at the till. They left me cold turkey because of a foetus that does not and will not exist. After a few too many weeks of crying on the phone to my parents, they’re now bringing me six months worth of my medication from Jamaica.

The onset of bipolar disorder is late adolescence to early adulthood, which coincides with the period most people are becoming sexually active. It makes an already awkward, sometimes painful experience even worse. The predominant issue we as bipolar people face with sex is hypersexuality, which sounds fun until you get chlamydia from risky sexual encounters. Yes, it happened to me and I’m over it now. I also had a dangerous habit of traipsing around sugaring websites. In my time exploring the world of sugar babies, I was offered an office job that would have paid me £3000 a month, no strings attached, if you can believe it. I slept with a 50-year-old man who insisted on watching me pee. I also had a poor habit of sleeping with my friends, out of boredom most times. All of the above are examples of what doctors call “inappropriate and risky sexual behaviour”. 

Needless to say, I regret all of it. If I could do 2019 over again with stable mental health, I think I’d only sleep with one out of the many people I got with. The other side of this illness, depression, basically has the opposite relationship with sex: low libido and negative self-image. 

To make sure these weren’t just problems for me specifically, I talked to other bipolar women about how sex affects our disorder and vice-versa. For one woman, going on mood stabilisers made her constantly fall asleep and killed her libido, which led her to stop her medication without consulting her doctor. She describes frequently dissociating during depressive episodes and then coming back to find herself in a ‘compromising’ situation. She says that despite a lack of positive experiences with sex and bipolar disorder she’s “happy and settled with [her] sex life now”.  We all relate to going through periods of hypersexuality, followed by “long bouts of the general self-loathing that comes with depression made worse by what [we’ve] done during manic episodes.”

Maintaining a relationship as a bipolar person is difficult, as you can imagine. It requires a lot of work from both partners to stop the disorder from ruining the relationship. As bipolar people, we have a responsibility to communicate our feelings with our partners in an emotionally mature way, even if it takes a lot of therapy and learning to get there. Our partners have a responsibility to listen to us and avoid triggering the shit out of us. Interpersonal conflict is a huge source of turmoil for bipolar people as it spurns negative feels beyond the scope of what’s been said in the argument. In the isolation that usually follows these rows, bipolar people can end up doing serious harm to ourselves. In any case, what most of us end up with is an unhealthy reliance on another person for emotional support, putting that person in a position of power to exploit us.

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