My Chaotic Sex Life Led Me To My Bipolar Diagnosis

At the time I would feel accomplished, but often, weeks later, be filled with deep shame about my sexual experiences. Then I found out why.
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Looking back at my sexual experiences, I honestly couldn’t tell you why I did most of the things I did. It was like I couldn’t see any negative drawbacks to them in the moment – never so much a question of “why?” as “why not?”

These thought process extended to other habits like eating and shopping, but as a perpetually broke uni student sex was the most freely available outlet for my manic energy. I was reasonably sober for most of these encounters, so I can’t even blame my choices on alcohol. I was always a happy, obliging partner, and I actively sought out my encounters. And for the most part, it was me sending those first flirty texts and inviting partners over.

So it’s always jarring to people when I talk about how deeply I regret these experiences – how at the time I felt accomplished, but often, weeks later, I was filled with deep shame.

I didn’t have a word for it when I was going through it, but I knew something was off. In a rare moment of clarity, I tried talking to my GP. I emphasised how uncomfortable I felt with my impulsiveness, and how it fuelled my low self-esteem. She asked me if I was having safe sex, I said yes, and with that answer she dismissed my very real concerns. Five months later, working with a private psychiatrist I’d already been seeing for my depression and anxiety, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder – a diagnosis that completely changed the way I thought about sex.

I realised that I, a bisexual woman fresh out of uni (an environment rife with disappointing sexual encounters), I had been suffering the consequences of a very long hypomanic episode.

“I didn’t see anything hugely wrong with my behaviour until I stopped being hypomanic, and neither did anyone else.”

I can’t precisely describe hypomania to people, but it’s like having 10 cups of coffee every day – or a coke habit. Your decision-making is impaired, you have delusions of grandeur, and your energy is always up, even if you only slept three hours the previous night.

I also began dealing with the crushing regret of my past hypersexuality (defined as “a dysfunctional preoccupation with sexual fantasies, urges, or behaviours that are difficult to control”), which it turned out is a common aspect of all types of bipolar disorder.

What so many non-bipolar people fail to understand about us is that our decision-making skills are significantly impaired when we’re manic or hypomanic. My change in perception of my sexual events wasn’t because I’m wishy-washy; it was me coming back to reality and realising I did impulsive things that put my health and safety at risk. I didn’t see anything hugely wrong with my behaviour until I stopped being hypomanic, and neither did anyone else. If you’d met me once while I was hypomanic at a party, you’d have a completely different impression of me now, sedate and properly medicated. When I was hypomanic I just seemed like a huge extrovert – loud, flirtatious, outgoing and kind of obnoxious. I didn’t suffer from some of the more negative hypomania symptoms – I wasn’t aggressive or irritable and I didn’t abuse substances. For the most part I appeared as normal as ever, and people had every reason to trust my judgement.

Since my diagnosis, the most enduring problem I’ve had is discussing my feelings with past sexual partners. I get it, no one wants to hear “I regret having sex with you because I was mentally impaired when I did it”. But I only want my partners to understand that I don’t blame them, or anyone, for what we did. They aren’t responsible for my brain’s struggle to regulate it’s neurochemicals, and I never want to feel like they were taking advantage of me.

“My libido isn’t dead. I just no longer feel the overwhelming need to satisfy my sex drive above all else.”

In trying to understand myself, I noticed that when you google bipolar disorder and sex, there’s a noticeable lack of people speaking from their own experiences. The first page of results is entirely made up of various health and wellness websites, followed by disturbing news reports of sex offenders who happen to be bipolar.

That was scary at first, feeling like I was predetermined to either be institutionalised or be a predator, but eventually I discovered online forums for bipolar people like me. And when I went public with my diagnosis on Twitter, I discovered a lot of my friends were also bipolar, and made new bipolar friends in the process. Having these communities was and continues to be important to repairing my broken relationship with sex. They’re places where I can talk about my traumatising experiences without guilt, and without judgement from prudes.

Since going on mood stabilisers and attending regular therapy, I’ve been happily celibate for seven months now. To be clear, my libido isn’t dead. I just no longer feel the overwhelming need to satisfy my sex drive above all else. I’ve been focusing on therapy and getting the right dosage for my various psychiatric medications, as well as my education.

I hate to sound like a youth pastor, but now? I’m content to wait for the right person to come around.

Christina Ivey is a Black, bipolar, bisexual writer on climate change, mental health and Black politics. Follow her on Twitter at @christine_ivey

Useful websites and helplines

Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.

Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).

CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.

The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email

Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on