Sex and Bipolar: Sparing a Thought for the "Normal" Partner

John McManamy Health Guide
  • This is the fifth article in our ongoing series on sex and bipolar, but first a brief aside: I was about to write that the previous installments have focussed on the topic from a consumer perspective, but then I caught myself. A consumer of what? I asked. Sex?


    You can see why I hate the term, “consumer.” 


    Anyway, this piece pays attention to that other “consumer” in the sex-bipolar equation, the one with the diagnosis of “chronically normal.” But, first, let’s make sure we have no misunderstandings. The common stereotype of someone experiencing hypomania or mania is that of an inexhaustible and unquenchable sex machine, delightfully out of control, the answer to all one’s prayers. (I’m assuming a lot of people do pray for this sort of thing to happen to them.)

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    Indeed, were it not for the stigma of our illness, my guess is you would see a lot of T shirts and bumper stickers touting that “Bipolars Make the Best Lovers.”


    No doubt, there is some of this going on. About three years ago, when it was possible to do this, I did a search of “bipolar” on Facebook. This yielded a ready number of profiles from young single women advertising that they must be “a little bipolar.”


    Forget for a moment about foolish kids glamorizing one of the worst illnesses on the planet. Obviously in the minds of a number of people, bipolar is well worth putting up with for the obvious rewards. As Marilyn Monroe once said:


    I'm selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best.


    Is there any truth to that?


    There is certainly strong evidence of hypersexuality in mania and hypomania, and the DSM makes mention of this, but does this translate to actually being better in bed? Here, the scientific evidence is totally lacking. 


    What is reasonable to assume is that our ups intensify all our experiences, whether listening to music, enjoying food, watching a sunset, or having sex. Even our downs can add layers of richness to our existence. Pity the chronically normal, forced to experience the world in one dimension.


    But is it possible for those close to us to experience our subjective realities? The answer appears appears to be yes. Our states of mind can be contagious. Wrote Kay Jamison of Virginia Woof, citing one of her social circle: "I always felt on leaving her that I had drunk two excellent glasses of champagne. She was a life-enhancer.”


    But the very intensity of our world can also be very frightening to others. Virginia Woolf may have lit up her Bloomsbury circle, but she also drove her husband nuts. Wrote poor Leonard:


    She talked almost without stopping for 2 or 3 days, paying no attention to anyone in the room or anything said to her ... Then gradually it became completely incoherent, a mere jumble of dissociated words.


    So - let’s make a few wild guesses about what happens when we take our enhanced subjective realities to the bedroom. One likelihood is that the intensity the bipolar partner brings to the moment jumpstarts the “normal” partner’s intensity, and next thing the two are experiencing the type of cosmic union you read about in the poetry of Rumi. Sample verse:


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    You are the sky my spirit circles in.


    Thank heaven for Rumi. How else would I know about this sort of thing?


    But, as we discussed in earlier pieces, there is also a very obvious downside, namely that the intensity of the experience may lead to some very bad decision-making. Vital brain circuits are flooded with dopamine. Our reasoning shuts down. We do stupid things, such as falling in love when we shouldn't. If this can happen to us, it can happen to our partners.


    Sex is mind-blowing enough without adding bipolar or bipolar-by-proxy to it. The accounts here on HealthCentral from those who have fallen in love with someone with bipolar can be heartbreaking. In essence, they have experienced the bliss of Marilyn at her best, but now they are having to deal with the reality of Marilyn at her worst.


    The ones we never hear from, though, are those who would happily join a nunnery or a monastery before ever having sex again with someone living with bipolar. If too much intensity can be frightening to others in everyday life, imagine what it must be like in the bedroom.


    On second thought, I’d rather not.


    So, yes - maybe it is fair to say that bipolars make the best lovers, but only if we are prepared to accept the unpleasant fact that we also make the worst. If this seems difficult to reconcile, then spare a thought for our poor partners. We, at least, have some practical experience, derived from a lifetime of living inside our brains. We sort of know what to expect. Our poor partners - they never see it coming.

Published On: December 31, 2011