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Autism Spectrum Disorder: Intimate Relationships & Sexuality

Dr. Lisa Lawless

Dr. Lisa Lawless, CEO of Holistic Wisdom
Clinical Psychotherapist: Relationship & Sexual Health Expert

Autism Spectrum Disorder gold infinity sign for ASD

What This Guide Will Cover

This article, intended for adults, will explore some of the latest insights into Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as a diagnosis as well as the impact it may have on romantic relationships and sexuality. In addition, I will examine how neurodiversity should be accepted, treated and celebrated. 

Regarding the term spectrum in terms of autism, it is essential to note that it is not how "autistic" one is (the degree of one's autism). Instead, it refers to various possible traits with varying intensities, including sensory processing, verbal communication, social interactions, and more. I will get into more detail about that, but it is worth noting as it explains why exploring ASD is such a complex subject.

Support & Functioning Labels

The focus should always be on identifying the specific support needs of individuals with ASD instead of functioning labels (high-functioning autism (HFA) and low-functioning autism). Rather, one should be referred to as having low support needs (LSN) or high support needs (HSN).

Functioning labels are problematic because they measure how well someone with ASD conforms to neurotypical expectations which can be used to undervalue their unique gifts and requirements. While using these terms can help define the need for a level of care and functioning, focusing on the individual's abilities and support needs is crucial rather than making assumptions or judgments about one's worth, challenges or potential. 

This guide is written to help shift the emphasis toward understanding and addressing the support needs of autistic individuals to better facilitate their ability to thrive and be celebrated.

ASD, Relationships & Sex

When most people talk about ASD, they tend to discuss children; however, according to the CDC, over 5.4 million adults have it, which is 2.21% of the adult population. That number is growing because of changes to criteria in the field of mental health, better training of healthcare practitioners and more awareness of symptoms by the general public through the internet.

With so many adults with ASD, it is essential to explore how it impacts sexual health, intimacy in relationships, and sexuality. After all, it impacts sex education, communication skills, consent, self-esteem, and neurodivergent sexual preferences and challenges.

Do Autistic People Do Well In Relationships?

Many people with ASD experience fulfilling romantic partnerships with both neurotypical and neurodivergent partners. Depending on the circumstances, they can be more challenging or easier than neurotypical relationships.

ASD Sexuality

People with autism may have very different experiences with sexual health and relationships from their neurotypical peers. However, as it is a spectrum, these experiences can range broadly from individual to individual as well as be both exceptional and challenging. 

Many people with autism are highly sexual; however, it is not uncommon for them to be infantilized concerning their sexuality. While some autistic people are asexual, dismissing sexuality in those with ASD is biased. 

Some people with ASD experience higher than average levels of sexual desire and activity while others have lower levels. Sex is simply part of the autistic spectrum.

In this guide, I will review various topics concerning ASD sexuality, such as the prevalence of identifying as LGBTQ+, asexual connections with ASD, and intimacy in relationships. In addition, I will address the fetishization of autism by ignorant people who characterize people with ASD by a set of autistic traits rather than seeing them as a person. However, before we delve into all of that, let's cover some basics.

What Is Neurodivergent?

In this article, I will employ various psychological terms. For those unfamiliar with these terms, please take a moment to familiarize yourself with the following definitions:

Neurodivergent (ND), Nurospicy

Those with autism are referenced as being on the spectrum or having ASD or being neurodivergent (ND). Neurodivergent refers to individuals with atypical neurological development, as seen in autism, which can result in diverse cognitive functioning and unique perspectives.

I may also use it to describe other neurodevelopmental disorders that cause cognitive, motor, social, emotional, or language difficulties, such as ADHD, Tourette's, learning disorders, cerebral palsy, stuttering, or dyslexia.

Many ND people refer to themselves as nurospicy and embrace their diagnosis using hashtag #nurospicy to help others find their content on social media.

Neurotypical (NT), Allistic

These are people who are considered within the typical range, "average," and are referred to as neurotypical. This term is often used in contrast to those on the autism spectrum. Keep in mind that the term neurotypical is a classification and not a diagnosis.

It is also important to note that an otherwise neurotypical person may develop depression and be temporarily or permanently neurodivergent. The duration and severity of neurodivergence can vary depending on the individual and the specific circumstances surrounding their mental health.

Another term to refer to people without autism is allistic. Simply put, it is a term used to describe individuals who are not autistic. It comes from the Latin word "allos," meaning "other," and is used to contrast with the term "autistic."

The Problems With Sex & Relationship Advice For Those With ASD

It is not uncommon for the few sex or relationship guides out there to present tips on dealing with a partner with ASD. However, very little is presented on how people with ASD should address neurotypical partners, who bring their own challenges to a relationship.

In fact, some neurotypical people tend to be less forthcoming, honest, or loyal than those with ASD, so helping those with ASD encourage their neurotypical partners to be more open and honest in relationships is just as important as their partner addressing some of the challenges someone with ASD may have.

By not addressing that both neurotypical and neurodivergent partners need to address their challenges, some people may be inadvertently promoting ableism. We must be aware of the judgment and discrimination it poses to those with ASD when we make them someone to "deal" with, as if to suggest their neurotypical partner does not bring their own issues to the table.

When You Feel Like An Alien

People with autism often describe feeling like they don't fit in. It is not uncommon for them to indicate that they feel like an alien, even when people welcome and care for them.

Things that traditionally make neurotypical people feel good may not lend the same feelings of comfort to those with ASD. Those with autism frequently try hard to practice self-care and do things that neurotypicals claim help them feel good, but often they walk away feeling empty and like things are void of meaning.

This is why it can be so important for people with autism to connect with other neurospicy people because, at the very least, there is a common bond and understanding of one another. Even if that is as simple as joining in on social media autism communities such as TikTok.

What Is The DSM-5?

I will mention the DSM-5 throughout this guide, so let's review what that is and how it affects an ASD diagnosis. The DSM-5, is short for the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition." It is a book that is published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and is the go-to for both mental health practitioners and healthcare providers when it comes to a psychiatric diagnosis.

Much like a dictionary, it provides descriptions of a mental health diagnosis, but it is also like a cookbook used backward. Here is how that works:

  • A therapist will listen to a patient's concerns and observe behavior. They will also get a family history and may also speak to family and friends if given permission.
  • Once they have as much information as they can gather, they will try to match their patient's symptoms, challenges, and behavior with a mental health diagnosis in the DSM-5. Using my analogy, it would be like using a cookbook to find a recipe with similar ingredients to a dish the patient describes.
  • Once a diagnosis is deemed a possible match, the symptoms are compared to those listed. In addition, the duration, frequency, and severity of those symptoms will be evaluated. So, regarding a cookbook analogy, one would need to know how many ingredients are present, what tools are needed, how to prepare them, and how long to cook them.
  • When providing a psychiatric diagnosis, it is highly recommended to have a physical examination to rule out physical health issues or substance abuse. This is like double-checking that you're not mistaking one dish for another because they share a few similar ingredients.
  • If a patient meets the criteria for a mental health diagnosis and there are no other explanations, a diagnosis is applied, like matching the ingredients to a recipe in a cookbook.

Issues, Ableism & Bias With The DSM-5

One should be aware of a few issues, including bias when looking at the DSM-5 that can interfere with an accurate diagnosis. The DSM-5 is not a comprehensive, unbiased account of autism and is always being updated. Here are a few concerns related to these shortcomings:

  • The DSM-5 is highly influenced by heterosexual, cisgender, white males and has been known to overlook issues that affect marginalized groups such as women, people of color (POC), and the LGBTQ+ community. This can lead to stereotyping, selection bias, and cultural bias.
  • The diagnostic criteria for autism are misogynistic in nature because, historically, many biases in research have led to an underdiagnosis of autistic females as well as other mental health disorders.
  • Some of the contributors and 70% of board members of the DSM-5 have financial ties to big pharma and managed care, which may influence the recommendations for prescription drug treatments and healthcare of psychiatric diagnoses.
  • There have been concerns that bias can cause clinicians to over-diagnose, over-simplify mental health disorders, or pathologize normal behavior leading to unnecessary treatment and stigmatization. There have also been concerns that bias may cause the underdiagnosis of mental health disorders as well.
  • In addition, there have been concerns that many diagnoses have had negative spins put on them with confusing, discriminatory, and pathology-based language, causing further bias, discrimination, and ableism. 
  • There has been criticism from clinicians that the DSM-5 manual relies too heavily on symptom checklists, which can be overly subjective. There may be cases of thinking in absolutes without considering the complexities that exist in between.

The Uptick In ASD

In 2023, CDC data has found an uptick in the prevalence of ASD in the US, partly due to improvements in detection. This is partly because of DSM-5 updates and because COVID caused a lapse in detection. Detection of ASD in children in schools is getting back on track, and more awareness by adults through social media is helping people become aware of their symptoms.

ASD Is Underdiagnosed

ASD is highly underdiagnosed because of the disregard for how it shows up in marginalized groups such as women, people of color, and more. There are various reasons people are beginning to better understand ASD, as well as see that there are more people that are neurodivergent than previously thought.

There is also a better understanding of the connections between other diagnoses of PTSD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and ASD (AuDHD), and others.

Girls are not keeping pace, in terms of being diagnosed in a timely manner, as much as their male cohorts. In addition, children of color have been assigned inappropriate diagnoses, or their autism expression has been misperceived as behavioral. They are often not given the special education they deserve or placed in more rigid behavioral programs, often with disturbing consequences.

In addition, people in lower income brackets and single parents or people juggling multiple jobs or whose first language is not English may have difficulty finding helpful resources for their children, which means they may go undiagnosed or not receive the care they are worthy of receiving.

Studies have indicated that women and minority populations, particularly Black, Hispanic, and Native American children, may be underdiagnosed or diagnosed later than their white counterparts.

In addition, it is more commonly diagnosed in males than in females, with studies estimating a male-to-female ratio of around 3:1 or 4:1. However, later in life, many girls and women are diagnosed because the criteria for diagnosis are based on males. 

Another reason is because females tend to mask better than males, and there are narrow stereotypes that exclude females from getting the acknowledgment and help they deserve.

Therefore, it is clear that a diagnosis of autism indicates a level of privilege for many who are otherwise overlooked. Male children with a strong educational foundation, English as their native language, and sufficient financial resources to access support and expedite diagnosis and treatment are those that typically receive the attention all people with ASD deserve.

Accusations Of Faking Autism

Autism has often been presented in a certain way in mainstream media. Without a great deal of education of the diagnosis, most people don't really understand how it can show up in many people.

However, one of the benefits of social media sites are that they allow people with neurodivergent diagnoses to share their symptoms, and more people are becoming aware of their own.

This has caused many to consult with health care providers and mental health therapists to determine if they are neurodivergent. This means more people who have been struggling with the challenges of being neurodivergent are finding community and helpful resources to help them.

Critics have made judgmental comments that people with anxiety are just using the autism label for attention. However, this is highly unlikely considering how negatively society treats those who live openly with their ASD.

This is terribly insulting to the mass amount of undiagnosed people who have experienced barriers to diagnosis, such as biases toward highly masking individuals, women, race, and class.

Research is constantly evolving, and there needs to be better awareness brought to these issues with education, more comprehensive therapy, and resources for those struggling with trauma, addiction, and violence related to ASD.

Testing For ASD

Apps and tests may be helpful in diagnosing autism; however, they are only as good as the people that create them. This means they may have biases or may be primarily designed for children. When you choose a mental health provider to discuss ASD, make sure they are educated on such biases and the latest detection tools.

ASD apps such as Autism & Beyond, ASDetect, M-CHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers), and Cognoa all focus on children. This can mean overlooking important aspects that affect adults.

Online tests that are for adults include: the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), which is a 50-question test, and the Ritvo Autism Asperger Diagnostic Scale-Revised (RAADS-R), which has 80-questions.

Like any diagnostic tool, these tests have their limitations and criticisms:

  • How people with ASD perceive themselves may not always be accurate, and it is easy to overestimate or underestimate symptoms. 
  • Moreover, those with ASD might unconsciously offer responses that seem more socially acceptable or not be aware of their own masking behaviors to conform to societal expectations.
  • ASD tests often focus on deficits and impairments without considering individual strengths or unique abilities. Without appreciating many of the benefits of autism, we overlook so much of an individual's unique capabilities in having ASD.
  • Cultural differences in ASD symptoms vary, and not incorporating these differences can lead to misdiagnosis or under-diagnosis in individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds.
  • Females with ASD may have more subtle symptoms or have better developed compensatory strategies due to social expectations, which means testing often overlooks their ASD diagnosis.
  • It is not uncommon to have comorbidities (other diagnoses) regarding ASD. ADHD, dyslexia, and PTSD are just a few, and autistic testing does not differentiate between symptoms of ASD and those of other psychiatric or neurological conditions. This may lead to false positives or misdiagnosis.

ASD Is Not Linear

The DSM-5 replaced the classifications of Autistic Disorder, Asperger's Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) with a single diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

Some people think of this new term as a linear spectrum from low functioning to high functioning. However, in reality, ASD is not linear, nor is it categorized as mild to severe. Furthermore, just because you experience someone's behavior as mildly autistic does not mean they experience their autism mildly.

Linear thinking regarding mild to severe categorically makes one think there are low to high-functioning people with ASD. Labeling people as high functioning can minimize and invalidate their struggles while labeling people as low functioning can be hurtful and stigmatizing.

Every person's experience with autism is a one-of-a-kind experience. It is best understood using a color wheel with many colors and shades to represent a range of abilities and deficits associated with autism.

Keep in mind that autistic people are incredibly diverse, and some don't suffer from the symptoms of their autism as much as they suffer from how the world sees and treats autism.

Autism Spectrum Disorder Wheel Graphic (ASD)

The Increase In Diagnosing Adults With ASD

Social media platforms, especially TikTok, have allowed people who have ASD to self-identify their own diagnosis. It has benefitted many adults by providing them with identifiable behavior in others that help them to make the connection to their own autistic tendencies and coping skills.

Not only have platforms like TikTok helped adults identify their diagnosis, but they have also given them a sense of community with like-minded people who empathize with challenges and celebrate the amazing benefits of being neurodivergent.

Also, keep in mind that there are still entire generations of people that were never diagnosed because relevant criteria for this diagnosis were not listed in the DSM which is another reason more people are realizing, "Hey, that's like me!"

Avoiding A Formal Diagnosis With ASD

The Stigma

The biggest reason people avoid a formal diagnosis is the negative stigma of ASD that is fostered by ignorance and discrimination.

Self-Perception & Relationships

It is not uncommon for people who receive any kind of mental health diagnosis to feel that it changes how they perceive themselves. This may cause some people to feel anxiety about how it may change how those close to them perceive them.

Work & School

Some people with ASD may worry that disclosing their diagnosis could lead to discrimination or negative consequences in their academic or professional life.

Health Care

Unfortunately, there is a great deal of bias in healthcare systems regarding ASD. In some cases, people with ASD may receive less attention, respect, or empathy regarding their healthcare concerns.

In addition, there may be realistic fears surrounding forced compliance with certain treatments or therapies without considering the autonomy of those with ASD.

Also related to healthcare are managed care and insurance companies, who may charge higher premiums or relate health conditions to their ASD diagnosis and get out of paying claims by using it as a pre-existing condition or a risk factor.

Legal Concerns

People with ASD are at a higher risk of having misunderstandings with law enforcement and legal professionals due to a lack of training which can lead to the unnecessary escalation of situations.

This can lead to false accusations, wrongful arrests, and inadequate legal representation to effectively represent autistic individuals. This may also mean harsher sentences or failure to consider the unique needs of autistic individuals.

Natural Variation Approach

Some people view ASD as a natural variation of human neurology rather than a disorder and decide that receiving a formal diagnosis is unnecessary.

High & Low Functioning Autism

When exploring ASD, it is not uncommon to hear the terms high-functioning autism and low-functioning autism. However, these references can be insulting as well as invalidating.

By thinking this way, people may make comments like, "You don't seem autistic; you must be high functioning." Typically most people intend this comment as a compliment, but it can make one feel that their struggles are invalid.

The truth is that those who are seen as high functioning are masking. Autistic masking is a skill of camouflaging or compensating to mimic neurotypical behaviors in social situations. This can be seen in every social situation, from school, work with friends, family, and even in partnerships. The more one feels they have to mask, the more draining it can be.

Masking is learned in childhood and often teaches children that any time they do things that make them happy or comfortable is perceived as wrong. It is not uncommon for someone with ASD to hear things like:

  • "You're so sensitive."
  • "Stop being so dramatic."
  • "Can't you just act normal?"
  • "You're overreacting."
  • "Why don't you make eye contact?
  • "Look at me when I am talking to you."

People with ASD quickly learn to adapt to avoid the pain of judgment and rejection. It is easy to see that most people feel more comfortable when those with ASD mask, as things tend to go more smoothly.

However, it is an exhausting act that teaches autistic individuals to feel unworthy of love, acceptance, and appreciation for who they really are inside. This easily explains why people with ASD have higher suicide rates than neurotypical people.

When ASD individuals are called high functioning, it can feel overwhelming to cover up their autistic traits to meet neurotypical expectations. On the other hand, being perceived as low-functioning often means people ignore them and treat them as incapable, which leads to feeling isolated, disliked, and unvalued.

ASD Meltdowns

Many people use the term "meltdown" when it comes to autism. What they are talking about is when someone with ASD becomes overloaded with sensory input, emotions, or stress. These overwhelming experiences can manifest in various ways, such as breaking down into tears, shouting, aggression, and even self-harming behaviors.

This is not the same thing as having a tantrum, as it is not a means to manipulate or seek attention from anyone. Rather, it is an involuntary response to being overwhelmed.

It may feel insulting to refer to such experiences as a meltdown because it can come across as judgmental. Some people prefer using terms such as simply feeling "overwhelmed" or "overstimulated."

When talking with someone who has ASD, it may be helpful to ask about their preferred terminology.

The Importance Of Stim Toys

Stim toys (stimulation toys) are objects designed to engage the senses and provide tactile, visual, or auditory stimulation. They are typically used by people with autism, ADHD, sensory processing disorders, or anxiety. Neurotypical individuals can also use them to help self-regulate, focus, or cope with stress.

There are different types of stim toys, many of which are designed with children in mind, but there are also those for adults. There is nothing wrong with adults who benefit from stim toys, as they can significantly contribute to improved mental well-being. Which kind of stim toy will depend on what sensory stimulation is preferred as well as how intense sensory-seeking behavior feels.

For many ASD individuals, they may not even realize how overwhelmed they may be feeling until they try a stim toy and find relief by using it. Below are examples of helpful stim toys:

  • Fidget Spinners: These small devices have a central bearing allowing users to spin it with their fingers.
  • Fidget Cubes: Small handheld devices with multiple sides, each featuring different tactile experiences like buttons, switches, or dials.
  • Tangle Toys: Interlocking, twisting plastic pieces that can be manipulated into different shapes and configurations.
  • Stress Balls: Soft, squeezable balls that provide a tactile outlet for stress and anxiety.
  • Chewable Jewelry: Necklaces or bracelets made from food-grade silicone or rubber designed for individuals to safely chew or bite on to provide oral stimulation.
  • Slime or Putty: Malleable materials that can be squished, stretched, or molded to provide a tactile experience.
  • Sensory Brushes or Textured Items: Tools that provide different textures or sensations when touched or rubbed.
  • Weighted or Textured Blankets: Blankets with extra weight or varied textures that can provide a sense of comfort and security.
  • Vibrators: For adults with ASD, this can be a variety of vibrators used non-sexually or sexually. For example, some ASD adults find holding a small bullet vibrator or a body massager in their hand or on various body parts soothing.

Touch of the 'Tism

The phrase "touch of the 'tism" is becoming more popular among those with autism to describe when someone does something that a person with ASD would do.

It may refer to things such as stimming, repetitive behaviors, sensitivity to sensory stimuli, special interests, and adherence to routines. The phrase "touch of the 'tism" is best used by those with ASD to refrain from stereotyping and bias.

The phrase is especially popular on TikTok, which hosts a large community of neurodivergent people who share meaningful information with one another. 

TikTok may be a helpful resource for those with ASD and their partners to connect with other like-minded individuals and explore education and resources. 

Reputation Management Vs. ASD Masking

Many neurotypicals also consider themselves as masking to meet social expectations through normal social camouflage in order to maintain reputation management.

This involves small talk, such as asking how someone is when you are not really interested or telling someone that you are fine when they ask you how you are doing. This is how neurotypical people navigate social situations without revealing their true thoughts or feelings. However, this is a very different from masking, this is reputation management.

Neurodivergent masking makes one feel exhausted, as if living your life is a performance. It becomes part of your identity and may often be done unconsciously.

People who are high masking often feel like a fraud and struggle to find their identity. Life can begin to feel like a chore, and the pleasure of it can significantly diminish over time.

Masking leaves one feeling they have no resources left, leading to burnout and depression, which is another reason why neurodivergent people have higher rates of suicidal ideation.

Masking & The Effects On Marginalized Groups

Many people with autism have learned to mask so well in order to survive socially that even a well-trained clinician may not be able to determine a diagnosis based on observable behavior in social situations. This can be especially true for marginalized groups when it comes to diagnosing ASD, which includes women, people of color (POC), and those who are LGBTQ+. 

The Challenges Of Unmasking

People with autism often cling to social frameworks to create order in the world. However, the brains of those with ASD struggle to make sense of social rules set by neurotypicals. By those of us who are neurodivergent, the world often feels superficial, dishonest, and illogical.

How an autistic brain perceives the world is often shamed out of them and is demanded to be suppressed. So those with ASD are often forced to cling to the frameworks of ableism. Because many people, especially women and minorities, are not diagnosed until they are much older, if at all, it can create a massive healing and grieving process.

It is often encouraged for autistic people to embrace themselves and explore the journey of unmasking in front of people who are safe to do that around. However, it is more complex than waiting to get home to be yourself. Unmasking can be complicated and challenging, especially if you have been doing it your entire life and are unaware of how much you have been doing it.

Think of unmasking like two colors of sand in a jar. Now shake the sand and try to sort out the different colors. This is similar to what it can feel like to deconstruct what is the real you versus the version of you that has been developed to be loved, accepted, and appreciated. This means having to deconstruct ableist views that create our world, and that process is incredibly bold, challenging, and complex.

When autistic individuals unmask, they often feel a significant relief when they embrace their neurodiversity. It is quite helpful for non-autistic individuals to support this process and encourage their neurodivergent peers, which include those with ASD, ADHD, Tourette's syndrome, dyslexia, and other conditions.

I urge any neurotypical person reading this to become an educated ally and provide neurodivergent people with the support they deserve to feel comfortable being themselves.

Autistic Burnout

For those with ASD, burnout is not the same as a meltdown. It is not something that builds up over hours; rather, it builds over months, years, or decades. It is when life demands exceed coping abilities.

The brains of autistic people process as much as 42% more information than those of non-autistic people. They often process more sounds, smells, touch, and other stimuli, which can cause them to feel overwhelmed in certain situations.

When one is constantly overwhelmed, it can cause one's nervous system to be chronically overloaded and become dysregulated leading to burnout. The autistic person has used up huge amounts of energy in trying to cope, and there's little to no energy left, much like a toy that is low on power or the batteries having been completely taken out.

Suddenly, a sense of no longer being able to cope in addition to executive functioning problems such as planning, organizing, initiating, and completing tasks begin to show up.

One of the most common reasons for burnout is the systematic and pervasive lack of autism awareness in the community. Those with ASD feel isolated, along with having negative experiences socially, at work, and with healthcare.

It leaves people with ASD feeling like nobody understands them as they encounter one form of discrimination and stigma after another. For example, even if you are highly skilled at your job, you may be passed over for promotions because you are not part of the social club at work.

This affects health and well-being, both mental health and cognitive abilities leaving one feeling overwhelming exhausted, frustrated, and depressed. It can cause feelings of being unable to go back to functioning, and self-care skills are not uncommon to drop off.

Things that may help address autistic burnout are:

  • Identify the most significant stressors.
  • Seek professional help from a therapist specializing in ASD and is current on the latest autistic treatments.
  • Set boundaries by prioritizing self-care.
  • Develop a routine that can provide predictability and reduce stress.
  • Break tasks into smaller steps to reduce feeling overwhelmed and increase your sense of accomplishment.
  • Connect with others by seeking support from family, friends, or support groups for people with ASD.
  • Practice relaxation techniques that promote relaxation and mindfulness.
  • Get enough sleep to help your body and mind recover from daily stressors.
  • Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and stay hydrated.
  • Consider requesting accommodations to help reduce stress and manage burnout.

The Controversy Over Understanding Social Cues

While it is often said that people with autism do not understand social cues easily, more often than not, it is that they do not understand the vagueness, missing context or deception that is often used by neurotypicals.

Many people with autism are quite astute and picking up genuine emotions; it is often dishonesty they have a more challenging time recognizing because many people with ASD do not naturally see any reason to be dishonest. When they learn to be dishonest it is often done out of a survival instinct.

Most neurotypical people use deception in everyday interactions without even realizing it. They may use subtle cues to flirt with people without acknowledging how they really feel. They may be passive-aggressive without honestly addressing their frustration. They may use sarcasm to indicate disdain for something without realizing their underlying vulnerabilities and why they have them.

It almost seems unfair to peg those with autism as being dysfunctional for being straightforward and expecting the same in return. Meanwhile, their neurotypical counterparts use deceptive behavior, which can be confusing, and yet it is autistic people labeled with the majority of dysfunction. When you think about it, what is more healthy behavior when it comes to relationships, being honest or being deceptive?

The Trauma Of Assuming Positive Intentions

People with ASD often assume positive intent of people. They often prefer to think that someone is sincere, friendly, and genuine. When they discover that someone is being sarcastic, passive-aggressive, or using them, it can be quite traumatic, not just in dealing with being abused but feeling that they could not detect the warning signs that someone was attempting to cause them harm. 

Perceived Sexual Obligations

Some autistic people have sex with other people because it is their understanding that it is what is expected of them. They often seek approval, love, and affection from someone and think that it is part of an obligation to meet their needs for affection. This can make them more susceptible to manipulation and abuse.

The Importance Of ASD & Sex Educational Resources

People with ASD tend to learn less about sex from other people and more from books or the internet. Based on their individual interests, they may possess varying levels of knowledge about sex.

What is of concern is that they are not as adept at understanding social cues that come with sexual abuse and assault. Thus, the connection between knowledge and abuse is vital.

Harmful Sexual Behavior

Most autistic individuals have healthy sexual behavior that includes masturbation and sexual activity with another consenting person of a similar age. People with autism are not more prone to commit sexual assault. Typically, when it comes to unhealthy sexual behavior, it is not an autistic person who perpetrates it.

When ASD people do partake in unhealthy or harmful sexual behavior, it is often because they may not understand social norms, cues, and boundaries, which can lead to misunderstandings and inappropriate behaviors.

They may have a limited understanding of consent or difficulty with impulse control. This is why sex education is vital for those with ASD, to ensure they understand how to engage in healthy sexual contact with others as well as better protect themselves from sexual predators.

Sexual Assault, Rape & Sexual Manipulation

Autistic people, especially women, are highly targeted because they tend to assume people are well-intentioned. This can readily make them an easy mark for sexual predators and sexually manipulative people with harmful or selfish intentions. Many victims of the #MeToo movement are neurodivergent people who have been exploited.

Increasing Awareness Of Rape, Sexual Abuse & Harm

Autistic people have a higher chance of experiencing sexual harm or abuse, and this is especially true for women and LGBTQ+ individuals. There must be greater awareness about this issue so that those with ASD can be kept safe from harm.

For those autistic people with difficulty communicating, healthcare workers should spend more time with them during wellness checks and provide screenings for sexual health issues or abuse. In addition, allowing alternative forms of communication, such as more direct questioning or asking for things in writing, can be helpful.

Autistic people are sexual human beings and have different gender identities and sexualities. Inclusive education about all these identities should be included when discussing sex education, sexual health, and consent.

It is also important to acknowledge that people with ASD often face more discrimination and stress because of the challenges that autism presents, which can be compounded by differences in binary gender identities or sexual orientation.

Autistic People More Likely To Have PTSD

It is not uncommon for people to realize they have PTSD in addition to being neurodivergent with ASD, ADHD, or AuDHD (combination). This is often because of their increased susceptibility to mistreatment, but other reasons include:

Sensory Overload

Those with ASD often have a heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli. This can mean that traumatic events can be intensified through overwhelming sensory experiences.

Difficulty with Communication

Some autistic individuals may have difficulty expressing their emotions or understanding the intentions of others. This is especially true when people attempt to manipulate them into compromising situations. They may struggle to cope with the feelings this brings up or find it challenging to articulate those emotions.

Social Isolation

Autistic individuals may experience social isolation or have limited social networks. This can make finding social support and resources more challenging after experiencing trauma.

Increased Risk of Bullying and Abuse

Autistic individuals are at an increased risk of many forms of bullying and abuse. This occurs not just for school children but also in social circles and at work for adults. ASD people may also find themselves in abusive relationships with partners.

Most autistic people approach people with sincerity and good intentions. When someone causes them harm emotionally, mentally, or physically by taking advantage of them, it can cause a great deal of trauma and make them struggle with trusting their ability to make sound judgments.

Desexualization & Infantilizing People With ASD

Many ignorant people erroneously desexualize or infantilize people with disabilities, which is quite insulting and a form of discrimination. It is essential to understand that people with autism are as diverse sexually as any other group.

Common misconceptions and stereotypes portray those with autism as nonsexual. In reality, people with ASD can and do experience a range of sexual feelings, attractions, and desires.

While there may be more significant percentages of those identifying as LGBTQ+ or asexual, they are often similarly sexual and romantic. Breaking stereotypes that diminish the sexually related human rights, needs, and desires of ASD people is essential for eliminating discrimination.

Healthy Sex & Intimacy

Like anyone, people with ASD have sexual desires and needs that should be fostered. To do that in a healthy way, here are helpful considerations:

Sexual Education & Empowerment

People with ASD should have a comprehensive understanding of their bodies, sexual health, and consent. There should be education that specifically reviews their rights as there is a high prevalence of them experiencing sexual manipulation, abuse, and rape by neurotypical people who take advantage of them.

Education focusing on voluntary, informed consent that can be revoked at any time is especially important and should include consent regarding alcohol and drugs. Communication that involves boundaries, desires, and comfort levels is also essential, especially around sensory issues that may arise during sexual contact.

Power dynamics such as age, gender, or social status can influence consent, and people with ASD should be educated about this as well as understand that some neurotypical individuals might employ manipulative tactics to obtain sexual favors. This can include making promises, feigning emotional interest, or expressing love to convince them to engage in sexual activities.

More Likely To Identify As LGBTQ+

Autistic individuals, particularly ASD females, are likelier to report greater sexuality diversity in sexual orientation, often including lesbian, bisexual, and asexual preferences.

In a studies, males with autism are 3.5 times more likely to identify as bisexual than their non-autistic counterparts, whereas autistic females are three times more likely to identify as homosexual than non-autistic females.

In a direct comparison between autistic females and males, females showed a higher probability of being sexually active and identifying as asexual, bisexual, or having an 'other' sexual orientation and were less likely to identify as heterosexual.

In addition, when it comes to asexuality, there can be ranges of low to high levels of sexual desire, which often depends on sensory and social perceptions.

What Is Autigender & Neurogender?

It has been observed that there is a higher prevalence of LGBTQ+ individuals within the autistic community. However, it remains uncertain whether this connection is due to a relationship between autism and gender/sexual orientation or if individuals on the spectrum are simply less affected by societal expectations.

Some autistic people identify as autigender, which is a gender-based term linked to a person's autistic neurotype and indicates differences from neurotypical gender norms.

This does not indicate that these people are saying that autism is their gender, but rather that their autistic traits may influence gender non-conformity, leading people to identify outside the gender binary. Autigender individuals may also identify with other gender labels.

Neurogender is a related term but includes other forms of neurodiversity. Some may find that in unmasking autism, they identify more comfortably as autigender or neurogender.

Autistic individuals can have a unique and complex understanding of gender due to differences in interpreting social conventions, norms, and etiquette, including gender. Using these terms may help some people describe their complicated feelings about gender.

ASD Asexuality

Some people with autism may identify as asexual and are 3.7 times more likely to identify as such. This higher rate may be because of sensory sensitivities to scents, sexual overstimulation, and other reasons.

Sexual Activity

Studies show that 89% of non-autistic people are involved in sexual activities, while 70% of autistic males and 76% of autistic females participate in sexual activities. Females may be more sexually active because of male coercion and societal expectations, but that is unknown.

Autistic Strengths In Relationships

There is a great deal of discrimination and ableism when it comes to autism, which can be found in the general public but also by healthcare providers. It is frequently done out of ignorance, focusing only on the challenges of such a diagnosis; however, those with autism often have incredible strengths and talents.

While every person with autism is unique, and not all individuals with ASD will possess these strengths, here are the common strengths associated with autism in partnerships:

Long-Term Relationships

A study in 2010 showed that those with autistic-like traits are more focused on long-term relationships and investing in family. This means that they may have more satisfaction with monogamous relationships.

Honesty

Many individuals with autism communicate sincerely and in a straightforward manner which can highly benefit intimate relationships. There can be reduced game-playing, manipulation, sarcasm, and other similar destructive relationship behavior by those with ASD.

More Uninhibited

People with autism may be less likely to be preoccupied with social norms, which means they feel more free to behave in fun, playful, and affectionate ways in public.

However, if someone with ASD has sensory issues with touch or has been shamed or verbally abused around being uninhibited in this way, it may cause them to dislike showing this side of themselves in public because they have been taught that they must hide this wonderful part of themselves in order to be accepted.

Attention To Details

Autistic individuals often have a highly perceptive eye for details, meaning they can notice things that may be imperceptive to neurotypicals. This can show up as someone being an attentive lover and partner who remembers special events like birthdays and anniversaries as well as their partner's preferences.

Many ASD partners make incredible romantic partners because they may be highly attentive to their partner's needs by noticing and anticipating them.

Some autistic people can easily predict behavior because they can pick up on behavioral patterns and other cues with great precision. These ASD individuals are often thought to be psychic by others because of how accurately they can see how people and situations will transpire. 

Those ASD individuals with sharp skills in noticing details also easily recognize when their partner is upset or uncomfortable before things escalate. This can allow for avoiding conflicts or quickly resolving them.

During sex, this can translate into them being a more intuitive lover who can gauge their partner's reactions increasing pleasure, comfort, and satisfaction.

Thoughtfulness

Many people with ASD are exceptionally considerate, especially in finding a thoughtful gift for a partner. This is because they remember small details about what moves their partner. There is also a tendency to do things for partners because it is understood that a partner prefers it.

Specialized Interests

It is not uncommon for someone with autism to have highly specialized interests. Their deep knowledge of these interests can make them outstanding experts on those subjects.

This can benefit partners, who can gain insight into their significant other's preferences as well as simplify the process of selecting gifts. It can also offer a sense of stability in their daily routines, as they can more accurately anticipate their partner's activities.

For example, many women on TikTok talk about their love of having a husband who has ASD because they know he will be busy with his hobby or collectibles rather than watching porn or out cheating on them. 

Logical Thinking

Because those with ASD often have a strong talent for logical and analytical thinking, they can be quite helpful to their partner in problem-solving.

It may also be easier for them to put their ego aside and acknowledge their behavior in a relationship which is essential to healthy partnerships. They are often more willing to apologize and avoid hurting their partner because fairness is often very important to them.

Persistence

Many autistic people have a great deal of determination and perseverance which can be quite helpful in overcoming relationship obstacles. They have the tenacity to apply themselves in ways that many neurotypical people find challenging.

Visual Skills

Some individuals with autism are skilled in visual thinking and processing. This can be helpful in partnerships as it allows for picking up on non-verbal facial expressions, body language, and gestures. This can allow for deeper emotional connections because of how well they can recognize subtle changes in their partner's expressions.

This can also translate into enjoying spending time with their partner enjoying aesthetics such as watching movies, admiring art, enjoying nature, or other ways of appreciating the beauty of life.

Systemizing & Cleanliness 

Autistic people often excel at recognizing and understanding patterns which can translate into being highly organized and clean. This creates a more harmonious living space where everything is well-ordered and properly maintained. There may be fewer domestic labor conflicts in such relationships.

Unique Perspectives

Partners with ASD may have unique and innovative problem-solving methods, making relationships work more smoothly and creatively.

Gender Roles May Not Be As Important

People who have ASD are often not too concerned with gender roles. They typically see a partner as an equal and can play the part of being more dominant or submissive depending on the circumstances and needs of the relationship.

Loyalty

Because those with ASD value fairness and justice, they are often highly loyal to those they care about. This means they are much less likely to be unfaithful, lie to you, talk behind your back, or maliciously hurt you.

The Social Hierarchy Conflict

One of the challenges of neurotypical people is that they prefer a social hierarchy in their social environments, whereas neurodivergent people, like those with autism, typically see all people as equal. Thus, when someone with ASD speaks to their boss or an authority figure with the same tone and respect as they would anyone, this can feel uncomfortable or even threatening to neurotypical people.

ASD people do not intrinsically see themselves or others as lower on the social ladder, and a sense of a higher social status feels superficial and unnecessary.

In relationships, this may cause stress or abuse of women with ASD who are in conservative partnerships where a male may think of himself as a patriarchal figure and her authority. He may find her disregard for binary gender norms or patriarchy as a threat and in some cases become verbally or physically abusive.

This can also cause problems for ASD people who practice religions that have a patriarchal approach. This is why people with ASD may be more likely to identify as atheist or agnostic than neurotypical individuals who prefer the emotional reassurances of religious beliefs.

Flipping The Script: Understanding Neurotypicals

Most articles that give advice on improving relationships and sex tips do so in relation to a non-autistic person approaching a partner with ASD. However, let's look at this from the perspective of someone with ASD because their perceptions are just as valid.

Social Hierarchy

Neurotypicals tend to seek comfort in established social hierarchies, which provides them with a sense of reassurance, stability, and self-confidence. 

In order to establish dominance within this hierarchy they may use passive-aggressive comments or sarcasm as a means to assert their position.

This may come from the expectation that you will appease them in some way as they are looking for reassurance of their own validity and authority.

Aversion To Sharing Much

People with ASD tend to say things that neurotypical people perceive as quite bold and "overly" truthful. They also tend to be perceived as oversharing when they attempt to bond by sharing personal ways they connect with others. It is often mistaken for being self absorbed and not understand it is simply a way of neurodivergent bonding.

People who are allistic (not autistic) tend to be more secretive or resist sharing too much information with others, especially things they may feel makes them vulnerable. 

Assumptions Of Perceptions

Non-autistic people often assume that everyone perceives stimulation the same way they do. For example, you may have a very high sense of smell and find the grocery store aisle with the laundry detergents too intense to walk down because of all the chemicals floating in the air.

People who do not have this sensory perception may think you are being overly sensitive or dramatic when you avoid this aisle because they assume you smell what they do.

One of the better ways to explain it to them so that they can understand is to use vision as an example. Everyone knows that many people need glasses or contacts to see better because they have poor vision. However, what if someone had super bionic vision that was so strong sometimes it felt overwhelming? The same can apply to scents, touch, etc.

That is similar to what autistic people experience in that their sensory perceptions can be highly sensitive. It can cause their experience of things to be quite different. This can lead to avoiding certain stimuli or seeking out certain stimuli to soothe them when overwhelmed. 

High sensory input can be a positive or negative experience depending on how much this is happening and the circumstances in which it occurs. In cases where it is positive, it may be that someone with ASD appreciates a flower or candy shop far more than someone who does not pick up on the the subtle textures, scents or colors. 

Social Reassurance

Individuals with neurotypical traits often seek substantial social reassurance for those they interact with even in partnerships. When you don't reassure them by doing things such as smiling or encouraging them to talk about themselves, they tend to perceive the absence of reassurance negatively.

In addition, when you speak passionately about your interests, they may not have the patience or interest to listen to what you are saying. Even if they appear interested by nodding or acknowledging what you are talking about, they may think you are self-absorbed or boring when you go on for a long time.

They often do not understand that you are simply trying to connect with them by sharing your interests or educating them about things you think are fascinating. Try to ask them questions about themselves as well and avoid talking too long about your interests unless the ask you to do it.

Aversions To Direct Truth & Justice

People with autism often have an incredibly strong sense of justice and personal morals. Neurotypical people may feel sensitive to this because they may feel judged and not want to be called out on things or be reminded of behavior they want to ignore or let slide.

AI May Be Ideal For Those With ASD

Autistic people are often thought of as being too literal, purposeful, and overly specific. In contrast, neurotypicals often communicate in vague ambiguities with missing context.

One of the exciting benefits of having autistic strengths of being literal, purposeful, and specific is that these attributes significantly enhance the proficiency in using and advancing AI programs, as these systems thrive on such strengths.

How AI Can Help Navigate ASD Relationships

How can people use AI to help them with romantic partnerships? Here are a few examples:

Relationship Assistance

When people with ASD have difficulty understanding the social cues of their partners, they can use chatbots to help them better understand particular behavior and expectations. It can be explained to them in a way that a partner may be unable to express. Using this as a tool to enhance relationships may be helpful.

Relationship Training

Sometimes couples can have a difficult time understanding one another's viewpoints. You can record conversations and ask AI programs to offer insights and guidance on how partners can be more emotionally attuned and respectful of one another. You can also review communication patterns to provide insights and recommendations for partnership improvement.

Mental Health Support

While AI can't replace the insights of a good therapist, it can offer personalized mental health suggestions for individuals and partners.

Tips For Neurotypical Partners

Be Honest & Straightforward

  • If you are involved with an autistic person, your relationship will thrive when you can be honest, straightforward and avoid miscommunication.
  • If you want to express affection, make sure you clearly communicate that and ask for their preferences in how you express affection. Then relay how you would like to receive it. When you think about it, a relationship with someone with ASD is an incredibly honest and healthy way of communicating with a partner.
  • When you feel hurt, you simply need to let your ASD partner know and why. Do not assume they will be able to read your subtle cues and hide your real feelings from them.

Give Them Their Space

Provide your ASD partner space when they ask for it, especially when overstimulated to be helpful to them. This includes leaving social settings that feel overwhelming. Respect their personal boundaries.

Review Touch Preferences

Find out if your autistic partner likes to be touched, as well as where and how. Be mindful that this can depend on whether they feel overstimulated or not.

Avoid A Lot Of Change

Try to avoid too much change all at one time. People with ASD find comfort in repetition, schedules, and consistency. Changes can be incredibly stressful for them.

Review Household Task Preferences

Be mindful that some household tasks may be more manageable for you than it is for your ASD partner. For example, many people with ASD dislike the feel of microfiber rags or wet and soggy things. It can cause sensory overload for them. Discuss ways that you both can contribute as equal partners but ensure that you consider things that may be overwhelming for them.

Respect Their Need For Structure

Be respectful of your ASD partner's need for structure, routine, repetition, and organization. It helps them feel comforted and keeps them from feeling overwhelmed.

Routines & Narrow Interests

Some people on the spectrum have restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests and may tend to focus on a narrow field of interests. However, some may be more eclectic and enjoy learning about everything, which can be especially true of those with ADHD and ASD (AuDHD).

There are varying levels of functioning and ability on the spectrum, but a common preference for routines is prevalent. Those with ASD may become distressed when these routines are disrupted.

Providing a partner with predictability and structure can be ideal for those who thrive in these circumstances. This may reduce spontaneity in relationships but integrating change more slowly can still provide creativity and fun.

Those with ASD may enjoy and find comfort in focusing on a particular subject or activity, which can be both a strength and a challenge. They may become exceptional experts in their chosen field and achieve great success. Their extensive knowledge can fascinate others, and they may be exceptionally articulate in the areas.

Some challenges lie in the possibility of becoming so overly specialized in some areas that they may neglect other essential topics. Additionally, this intense focus can make connecting with individuals who do not share their interests challenging.

Relationships Or Dating Someone With ASD

There are infinite variables about how someone will experience dating someone with autism or being in a relationship with them because of how vast the spectrum is. However, I will list some things that you may see in those with ASD when it comes to dating:

Spontaneous Decision Making

Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often face challenges with spontaneous decision-making due to various factors associated with the condition. Some of these challenges include:

Flexibility

Because people with ASD often prefer routines and predictable environments, some may find adapting to change or being spontaneous more challenging. People who are high-masking or have other learned social skills may be able to accommodate being flexible more easily.

Communication

Understanding social cues, nonverbal communication, and the nuances of conversational exchanges may be more challenging for some with ASD. Thus, making quick decisions in social situations may require more effort to communicate. Others who are especially high-masking may not find this to be challenging at all.

Information Processing

Those with ASD may process information more slowly, faster, or differently than neurotypical individuals. They might need more time to understand the available options and make decisions based on the information presented.

Anxiety & Stress

Decision-making can be anxiety-provoking for some individuals with ASD, while others find it effortless. Those who experience stress associated with spontaneous decision-making can experience difficulty choosing or avoiding decisions altogether.

Executive Functioning

Executive functioning skills, such as planning, organizing, and problem-solving, can be challenging for some people with ASD, while others may thrive in doing these things. For those who struggle, it can impact their ability to make spontaneous decisions. Giving these individuals more time and support may help them weigh the pros and cons of different options.

Sensory Processing

People with ASD often experience sensory sensitivities, making them more aware of their environment's sights, sounds, and other sensory aspects. When they are in an environment where these sensitivities are overwhelming, it may make it difficult to concentrate on decision-making tasks.

Abstract Concepts

Abstract thinking (non-tangible ideas) may be challenging for some individuals with ASD, while others are highly cable of critical thinking, multiple interpretations of abstract concepts such as love, justice, and morality.

When those with ASD are challenged in abstract thinking, making decisions that require considering hypothetical scenarios or understanding the potential consequences of their actions may be demanding.

Theory Of Mind

Many people with ASD comprehend other people's thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. However, for some with ASD who struggle with this, it may be challenging to make decisions that involve considering the needs, desires, and opinions of others.

Easing Into Intimacy

Romantic experiences vary widely, and it is essential to note that not all people with ASD will face the same challenges. For some people with ASD, intimacy may feel trepidatious; some of the possible reasons for this can include the following:

  • Sensory sensitivities
  • Emotional regulation
  • Fear of rejection or judgment
  • Communication challenges
  • Limited understanding of social norms
  • Rigid routines and preferences
  • Co-occurring conditions such as PTSD
  • Low self-esteem or self-confidence
  • Lack of experience or education

Flirting

Because many people with ASD struggle with interpreting social cues, they may not be able to identify flirting as easily. If you know someone you are interested in is on the spectrum, it may be better to be upfront about your romantic feelings and intentions to ensure that they interpret you correctly.

Consider the following tips for communicating your romantic feelings more effectively:

Be Direct

Clearly state your feelings and intentions and use straightforward language, such as "I really like you" or "I'm interested in getting to know you better."

Be Patient

Give them time to process their feelings and consider their response.

Be Open To Questions

Encourage them to ask you questions about your feelings or intentions. This can help to clarify misunderstandings and promote open communication.

Use Concrete Examples

Provide specific examples of things you like about them to make your intentions more understandable.

Be Mindful Of Sensory Sensitivities

Be aware of their boundaries and preferences, and avoid overwhelming them with too much sensory stimulation such as touch, loud sounds, flashing lights, etc. For example, taking them to a carnival or loud dance club to experience emotional intimacy may not be ideal.

Offer Reassurance

Be understanding of their unique needs and communication style.

Respect Their Pace

Be respectful of their pace and allow the relationship to develop naturally, and communicate how fast or slow you want things to go so that they can consider your needs as well as their own.

Masturbation

Masturbation for people with ASD can relieve sexual frustration and feel pleasurable. It allows an individual to be more familiar with their own body by safely exploring what pleases them. Masturbation can also be beneficial for those on the spectrum to help identify what feels good and what doesn't.

Boundaries Surrounding Masturbation

For some with ASD, it may be helpful to review appropriate masturbation etiquette to ensure an understanding of certain social norms or behaviors.

For example, it is essential to understand that masturbating in a public place where they can be seen is illegal and can lead to prosecution. It is also important to address sexual hygiene to avoid health issues such as urinary tract infections (UTIs) and proper cleaning of sex toys.

The frequency of masturbation may also need to be reviewed to ensure it is not disrupting one's life. In addition, discussing consent for sharing one's masturbation experiences or participating in mutual masturbation is important.

When It Is Stimming, Not Masturbation

It is vital to remember that touching the genitals is not always sexually motivated. Sometimes, people with ASD may find touching or rubbing their genitals through their clothes a comforting sensory need (stimming behavior).

This form of sensory seeking may need to be discussed to ensure that it is understood to be a healthy behavior when done at the proper place and time, in addition to ensuring one is not causing stress or injury to the body.

Irritating Clothing

Tight clothing, certain fabric textures, or tags may cause discomfort for individuals with ASD due to the sensory input they deliver. This issue may extend to undergarments, leading to someone with ASD adjusting themselves near their genital area to alleviate the unease, which may be misinterpreted. This is just one of many reasons prioritizing comfort in attire is important for those on the spectrum.

Other Reasons For Touching The Genitals

Those with ASD may have difficulty expressing themselves, making it challenging to communicate health concerns or experiences of sexual trauma related to their genital area. It is crucial to establish non-judgmental communication methods to explain reasons for self-touch to ensure they receive the care and support they deserve.

Sexual Hypersensitivity

Because autistic people can have enhanced sensory perceptions, they may be especially sensitive to various stimuli such as sounds, colors, textures, sensations, food, and sex. This can mean that sex can be incredibly pleasurable because they are connected to enhanced awareness of sexual stimulation.

However, it can also mean that some autistics who are very sensitive to sensory input may find some or all sexual acts to be overstimulating. In these cases, they may abstain from some sexual contact or all of it. Some may also seek out substances such as drugs or alcohol to reduce stimulation during sex.

Sex With Sensory Conditions

People with autism may enjoy sex under certain conditions. They may find things like the smell of someone's breath, cologne, cigarette smoke, or the feel of specific clothing overwhelming or distracting.

Preparing For Sex

Sex can be used to reframe negative sensory experiences into positive ones by exploring and learning that being touched by someone we love can bring a positive association. This is not true in all cases, but it can occur, especially if your partner validates your desires and you know that it is perfectly fine to have particular needs and preferences. 

Decompressing before sex may be helpful for people with ASD. Frequently during the day, there can be a great deal of sensory overloads, such as a loud co-worker or strong cologne in the air. Creating some space to reset before receiving sexual advances can be beneficial. 

Some people with ASD may have difficulty coordinating movements in relation to the rest of their or a partner's body. Thus, certain sexual positions may be more comfortable. Setting up a plan before having sex on what sexual position is preferred and enjoying routines may all be ways to help partners with ASD enjoy sex more.

While planning may help, sometimes, the autistic brain may become too fixated on the plans and have difficulty allowing themselves to be in the moment, especially when things do not happen as predicted.

Overcoming Preconceived Ideas

Preconceived notions about sex may also come into play. For example, if someone with ASD has watched porn or has been in another sexual relationship and they are in a new relationship, they may expect their partner to behave in the same way. When things are not the same as what they have previously seen or experienced with porn or another partner, it may feel overwhelming, confusing, or feel off.

This is a form of cognitive rigidity, and it may be helpful to discuss sexual expectations and preferences in advance to reduce the chance of sexual activity not going smoothly.

Minimize Anxiety Triggers During Sex

Inner dialogues of ASD people may feel overwhelming, making it difficult to focus on sexual pleasure. Intrusive thoughts include things both unrelated to sex as well as related. Those that are related may be "Is my partner noticing I've gained weight," or How do we handle sexual cleanup?"

Sexual Sensory Input

The human brain takes sensory information and filters it sending information as to whether those senses are good, bad, or indifferent. Someone who has ASD may be hypersensitive to different types of stimuli, such as sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell.

Not all hypersensitivities of the senses mean they are unpleasant. Some autistic people experience a level of sensory joy that non-autistic people may not understand or even be aware of, such as smelling their partner or listening to them breathe.

There can be an extraordinary juxtaposition of sensory joy and distress within the same individual with ASD. Sensory sensitivity and its effects on autistic individuals are both complex and varied.

Let's explore how those can show up in relationships with partners and during sex:

Sight

Sensitivity to certain colors or patterns may mean partners should avoid wearing them or using them in the home to help keep from overstimulating their partner.

Cluttered environments can also cause overstimulation which may mean keeping the household tidier, less cluttered, and visually comfortable.

In addition, physical appearance can be a significant factor in sexual attraction, and those with ASD may find certain facial features or body shapes more appealing than others.

Visual cues may cause discomfort and may impact sexual arousal, where a partner with ASD may feel overwhelmed with eye contact, meaning that certain tantric exercises with soul gazing may not be ideal. Some with ASD may find overt sexual content, such as porn, unappealing and prefer more subtle forms of visual stimulation.

Some with ASD may feel particularly self-conscious about their bodies and not enjoy or be indifferent to being looked at or looking at their partner in the nude,
while some may enjoy sexual positions that provide less visual stimulation and more focus on touch and emotional connection.

    Hearing

    People with ASD who are sensitive to sounds may find partners who yell or scream to be overwhelming. Many couples kid around with one another; however, it may cause trauma for them to have practical jokes played on them that startle them or cause loud noises to occur.

    Those sensitive to loud noises may find loud sexual sounds to cause anxiety and stress. It may cause difficulty filtering out the sounds they are hearing from the sexual pleasure they are experiencing.

    You may also have two scenarios when it comes to sleep; some people with ASD find fans or sound machines soothing as it helps to block out small noises that can easily wake them up. Other partners may find the fan or sound machine to be the source of distress.

    For some people hearing a partner's voice, laughter, or even breath can help create an emotional connection, but for others, it may serve as a sexual distraction and cause difficulty focusing on achieving orgasm.

    Music or other ambient sounds can create a relaxed, intimate atmosphere that facilitates sexual arousal, but it can be irritating and distracting for some with ASD. It depends if sex sounds are more appealing or if the music or ambient sounds are more desirable.

    People with ASD often enjoy the comfort of repetition, so sometimes playing the same song or a few songs on repeat can help the brain from becoming distracted. 

    In some cases, noise-canceling earphones may be helpful. However, some people with ASD find that they can hear their own breathing and bodily sounds more easily that way, so it is all about personal preference.

      Touch

      Touch can increase sexual arousal by stimulating the release of hormones and neurotransmitters, such as oxytocin and dopamine. These are associated with pleasure, bonding, and sexual desire.

      For those on the spectrum, being touched and touching a partner may come with specific preferences. There may be sensitivities to distinctive textures, such as rough fabrics like lace or soft fabrics like microfiber.

      Deep pressure may be more soothing for those who have discomfort with a light touch or unexpected physical contact. Exploring different types of touch, such as stroking, tickling, or massaging, can help determine what touch is enjoyed and what should be avoided.

      If there is sensitivity to touch, consider using relaxation techniques beforehand to get into a more relaxed state of mind, as this can lead to better sexual experiences and increased satisfaction.

      You can also try enjoying a relaxing massage or having your hair played with to unwind before participating in sexual activity.

      For vaginal pain during sex, please see our helpful guide: Painful Vaginal Sex

        Taste

        Taste and scent are interconnected, as seen in the connection between smelling and tasting food. Those with ASD often have strong preferences for particular flavors or textures in food. This can also apply to sexual tastes of the mouth, skin, and genitals.

        If one is particularly sensitive and overwhelmed by the taste of ejaculate, it may cause gagging or retching. Using dental dams, condoms, or flavored lubricants may reduce this response, but it can also make it worse. It ultimately depends on the individual.

          Smell

          Overpowering or specific odors can cause a great deal of discomfort to someone hypersensitive to scents. It can cause mental and emotional stress as well as physical reactions such as sneezing, headaches, or even nausea.

          Making sure you are not wearing perfume or cologne that is overwhelming to your partner with ASD can make a big difference. This can also apply to scented candles, scented massage oils and lubricants, room sprays, air fresheners, cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, fabric softeners, cigarette smoke, and more.

            Movement

            People with ASD may also experience sensitivities in other sensory systems. This includes the vestibular system, which is related to balance and movement, or the proprioceptive system, which corresponds with body awareness.

            Challenges with coordination, motor skills, or an increased need for sensory input (stimming), such as rocking or spinning, can feel better when these needs are addressed during sexual activity. Thus, communicating about what is most comforting in advance may be beneficial.

              Hypermobility & ASD

              Hypermobility is when the joints move beyond the normal range of motion in various degrees of severity. There is some evidence that people with neurodivergent conditions like ASD may be more prone to hypermobility.

              This can be advantageous in certain activities, such as sexual activity, gymnastics, or martial arts, but it can also lead to various health issues as well.

              Symptoms of hypermobility can include:

              • Joint pain and discomfort
              • Frequent joint dislocations or subluxations
              • Increased risk of injury, such as sprains and strains
              • Fatigue and muscle weakness
              • Bruising easily or poor wound healing
              • Chronic pain

              Sexual Solutions

              If you experience hypermobility and it causes you pain or discomfort, there can be sexual resources that can help you. For example, using a self-thrusting dildo or hands-free sex toy may be a better option for sexual stimulation. In addition, using sex pillows to support various sex positions may also be beneficial.

              Please see our helpful guide for more suggestions: Sex Toys For Disabilities.

              Communicating About Sex

              When discussing intimate topics, individuals with ASD may find it difficult to express their preferences and boundaries without feeling like they are criticizing their partner. Utilizing "I" statements can be more effective and help to alleviate these concerns.

              For more suggestions on sex and communication, please see our helpful guide: How To Ask For Better Sex

              Reducing Sensitivities

              Skin

              Some people with ASD find particular sexual activity overstimulating, so finding ways to decrease such sensitivities can be helpful. For those who find skin-to-skin contact over the entire body too overwhelming, wearing clothes or using a sheet to buffer certain areas may be beneficial.

              Sex Positions

              Using certain sexual positions may be helpful, aided by sex pillows that allow you to achieve those positions or will enable a partner to hug them in certain positions, giving some people on the spectrum added comfort.

              Pubic Hair

              If the presence of pubic hair is too intense for your senses, you may want to think about trimming or shaving it. Alternatively, you can try wearing underwear adjusted to the side or using a dental dam for coverage.

              Lubricants For Autistic People

              Some lubricants that feel overly sticky or thick can feel unpleasant for some with ASD. Choosing a water-based lubricant that feels more like your own natural lubricant may provide comfort and familiarity. Using lubricants like Sliquid or Good Clean Love that offer that feeling may be good brands to choose for this reason.

              Vibrators For ASD

              If you are sensitive to vibration, some people with ASD may enjoy sex toys but prefer non-vibrating or low-powered vibrators. All of our vibrators have power ratings that are based on the highest setting. Keep in mind that you can always use a vibrator on a low setting if it has multiple speeds.

              Vibrators can also come with varying types of vibration, such as high pitched and buzzy or deep and rumbly. We provide descriptions of these differences on each one of our vibrator pages to make it easier to know what type of vibration it offers before you purchase a toy.

              If you are unsure, feel free to contact us, and we can help you determine what may best work for you. We have also put together a helpful guide to help you decide what features may work best for you: How To Choose A Vibrator.

              Air Pulse Stimulation

              If you find that vibrators are too irritating, you may want to try using an air pulse or clitoral pump. These sex toys provide sonic puffs of air; some call them air pulse sex toys while others call it pulse wave technology.

              Use Healthier Sexual Products

              Because of sensory sensitivities, those with ASD should be especially mindful of using sexual products that are nontoxic and body safe. This also applies to using healthy lubricants with ideal osmolality and pH levels.

              Healthier sexual products, particularly those made with natural or nontoxic ingredients, may be less likely to trigger sensitivities. Using healthier products may also help reduce feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated if irritation occurs.

              Taking Turns

              Having great sex does not mean you have to pleasure one another simultaneously. Whether or not you are on the spectrum, you can take turns sexually pleasing one another. However, if you are neurodivergent or on the spectrum, you may find this much easier.

              You can focus all your energy on the pleasure you are receiving, which can help reduce feeling overstimulated, having intrusive thoughts and make having an orgasm easier to achieve.

              Taking turns for sexual activity doesn't detract from mutual pleasure or shared intimacy. In fact, it can make you more attentive lovers.

              Incorporate Your ASD Special Interests

              Often, people with ASD have particular areas of interest, and integrating those interests into your sex life can make it even more exciting. For example, if your area of special interest is cars, experiencing sexual activity in a car may be incredibly arousing.

              For some people on the spectrum, watching a video of their interests while enjoying sexual stimulation or using certain sexual products to complement them can increase sexual intensity.

              This can also mean incorporating roleplay or cosplay into sex using costumes. Some people with ASD may even feel more comfortable exploring their desires and boundaries by embodying a favorite character or embracing a new persona.

              Using sexual moments as a time to talk about your particular interests with your partner may also be a way to stimulate your mind and body connection. For example, reciting your favorite facts about something you enjoy while receiving sexual stimulation can be incredibly arousing for some individuals with ASD.

              Autistic Sexual Products With Hypersensitivity

              Touch also applies to sex toys and sexual products. The following are things to consider if you or your partner have hypersensitivities to touch:

              • Consider warming up a lubricant before applying it to the skin to make the temperature less shocking to the body.
              • Using things such as dental dams, external or internal condoms can help reduce sensitivity.
              • Use bumpers on dildos to keep penetration more shallow.
              • Consider using desensitizing lubricants if you find that penetration is too intense.
              • Using a blindfold can help reduce distractions if you are easily distracted. It can also help people who prefer not to have eye contact.
              • Depending on preferences, some people on the spectrum may enjoy the addition of flavored lubricants to cover bodily tastes, while others may find them overpowering. This is a personal preference worth exploring. 

              Safe Words & Gestures

              Safe words are often communication hacks used for BDSM and role play, but it may be beneficial to use them for traditional sex (vanilla sex).

              This is because sex can be emotionally and physically overwhelming for anyone, and for those on the spectrum, it can cause overload without the ability to articulate it as easily. Many with ASD find verbal skills especially compromised during sexual activity, making evaluating and summarizing things challenging.

              Using easy-to-remember safe words are best, and while you can be as creative as you like, using something everyone can easily visualize, such as the traffic light colors, can be ideal. Here is an example of how this might translate:

              Green

              Signifies a high level of pleasure, indicating that it is enjoyable or tolerable.

              Yellow

              Conveys a moderate level of comfort, but adjustments may be necessary to improve the situation, such as slowing down or altering the activity.

              Red

              Denotes discomfort, necessitating an immediate termination of the activity.

              Physical Cues

              When verbal communication is difficult, a single tap can represent green, a double tap can signal yellow, and three taps can indicate red.

              ASD & BDSM Roleplay

              Some people with ASD enjoy BDSM gear that provides enjoyable sensations on the skin, such as silky ropes, tickers, and floggers.

              BDSM and roleplay require clear communication and expectations before, during, and after sexual activity. There are very clear expectations to follow, which is one of the reasons some people with ASD enjoy it.

              In addition, those on the spectrum don't always follow social scripts, so doing something sexually bold such as incorporating BDSM, can feel empowering. Some with autism enjoy being able to give clear instructions about what feels good and what doesn't in the moment, which is part of BDSM play.

              Even if whips, blindfolds, etc., are not used during sexual adventures, the principles of communicating using BDSM can still be used for general sexual contact.

              Before participating in any kind of bondage, please read our helpful guide BDSM Toys & Role Play regarding proper rules and considerations.

              Selecting Sex Toys & Sexual Products

              If you have a sex toy collection, selecting certain sexual products may set the mood for what type of sexual experience you both desire. This can help orient one with ASD as to what they should expect regarding stimulation, which may contribute to fewer instances of feeling overwhelmed in the moment.

              Autism Controversies

              The Autisticsexual Controversy

              Some people use the term autisticsexual along with a picture of a rainbow flag with puzzle pieces in the center along with the words "a new sexual orientation," explaining being attracted to autistic people. They include children, not just adults, which is even more disturbing.

              By most people in the ASD community, this is seen as a fetishization, infantilizing as well as insulting, and derogatory because it's not viewing someone with ASD as a person; it's only viewing them as a set of autistic traits.

              You don't need to create a new sexuality to say you enjoy or are open to dating autistic people, as there is a big difference between accepting a group and fetishizing them.

              Furthermore, it may have been created by internet trolls to make fun of progressive causes. Positions such as wanting to be treated equally and alternatives to ABA types of therapy are so reasonable that it's nearly impossible to find fault in them. Thus, some antagonists find ways to create strawman "progressive movements" for them to ridicule instead, and this is likely one of them.

              Objectophilia

              Some have suggested that people with autism may be more likely to experience romantic or sexual attraction to specific objects, as indicated in a small 2019 study that showed that autism rates were higher in objectum sexuality (OS) individuals. However, no other studies as of 2023 have been done and no definitive evidence suggests this. Objectophilia is quite rare, and generalizations about any group of people, including those with autism, are a form of discrimination.

              Autism Speaks Controversy

              Autism Speaks, founded in 2005, is a highly influential organization that is the source of many valid concerns and controversies within the ASD community.

              They have historically lacked representation of autistic individuals on its board and in its decision-making processes, however, they have since added some. This has led to overt ableist language and offensive and stigmatizing expressions of the needs and experiences of autistic people.

              For example, they had an "I Am Autism" ad campaign portraying autism as a life-destroying force, along with commercials that treat autism as a predator coming for your children.

              They also use language focusing on finding a cure rather than promoting acceptance and support for individuals with ASD. In addition, they use a great deal of funds to find a cure or the cause of autism rather than toward services that provide support for autistic individuals and their families.

              They promote Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, a controversial and traumatizing treatment for autism because it seeks to change autistic behavior to fit neurotypical norms rather than encourage acceptance.

              Autism is not wrong, evil, or bad. It is simply is a natural variation of human neurodiversity that should be accepted and celebrated.

              Puzzle Piece Symbols Offensive

              The Autism Society of America designed a puzzle piece ribbon in 1999 to raise awareness of autism. It was intended to signify the complexities of autism; however, it has since been rejected by many in the neurodivergent community.

              The puzzle pieces were used without input from the autistic community and some interpreted it as needing to figure out people with ASD or that those with the condition were incomplete and had something missing. Furthermore, it is childlike which further infantilizes people with ASD.

              The gold infinity sign has begun to replace it to promote a more empowering symbol. Its color was chosen for Autism Acceptance. Gold, on the periodic table of elements, is 'Au,' the first two letters of Autism/Autistic. The infinity symbol came from the growing popularity of autism being seen as a spectrum without needing to cure it.

              There is also a rainbow spectrum infinity symbol for all neurodivergent disorders. The spectrum of colors promotes the idea of endless possibilities and untapped potential.

              Avoiding ABA Therapy

              Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is a widely used therapy for those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Here are several reasons why ABA therapy should not be used for neurodivergent people:

              One-Size-Fits-All Approach

              ASD is a vast spectrum, and using a therapy like ABA that has specific structured and standardized protocols does not recognize the unique needs, interests, and strengths of each individual with autism.

              What Is Normal?

              ABA uses what are considered "normalizing behaviors" for people with ASD, attempting to make them conform to societal expectations rather than fostering their individuality and celebrating neurodiversity.

              Furthermore, it "blames the victim" by dismissing the many challenges that neurotypical people exhibit, such as a need for hierarchy, manipulation, and vague statements.

              Intensive Demands

              ABA therapy often requires 20 to 40 hours per week of treatment. This level of commitment can be financially challenging and incredibly time-consuming for families and individuals with autism, leading to potential burnout and stress.

              It also makes it less realistic for those people who do not have the financial resources to partake in such a commitment. This may also contribute to a lack of services for those who exist in marginalized communities.

              Negative Reinforcement

              ABA therapy relies on reinforcement strategies to shape behavior which may lead to negative reinforcement or punishment. This is harmful to the emotional well-being of anyone.

              Omits Emotional & Social Development

              It places too much emphasis on observable behaviors without addressing the underlying emotional and social development of individuals with ASD.

              The Link Between ASD, Narcissism & People Pleasing

              It has been noted that there may be a connection between autism and narcissism, particularly why autistic women often find themselves in narcissistic relationships.

              It may be due to many of them being raised by an undiagnosed autistic parent, which can resemble being raised by a narcissistic parent because both types of parents may fail to attune to a child's emotions in the same way by possibly not validating or seeming more disconnected.

              In contrast, diagnosed autistic parents might better accommodate and understand their circumstances. There is a notion that undiagnosed autistic individuals often develop narcissistic traits. This development arises when autistic individuals grow up in environments where their caregivers are unable to meet all of their needs, sending a message that their needs are excessive.

              Consequently, these individuals may learn to suppress their emotions and avoid expressing needs in ways similar to how some people with PTSD might react. Additionally, they may adopt narcissistic behaviors, becoming overly protective and controlling of all human emotions.

              Narcissism is a condition affecting someone who, initially capable of empathy and compassion, loses touch with these qualities through trauma and subsequently struggles to access them. To the untrained eye, autistic individuals might appear narcissistic, even if they haven't experienced trauma.

              Autistic individuals often have difficulty understanding and feeling their emotions and often process emotions differently, feeling them more intensely and at different times compared to others. At times, those with ASD may feel as though they are merely performing emotions; for example, they recognize when it is socially expected to show sadness, even if they do not feel it themselves.

              Autistic individuals, in some cases, may become narcissists because they typically have more significant needs, which can overwhelm their caregivers. This can lead to messages that their needs are excessive or unacceptable, fostering behaviors like emotional manipulation and the performance of emotions to get their needs met.

              Narcissism stems from early experiences of not having needs and desires validated or met through normal means, leading to the use of emotional manipulations. This adaptation varies among individuals; some become people pleasers, while others turn into manipulators, depending on how they connect to or disconnect from their human empathy.

              ASD & Sex Toy Stores

              When ASD individuals go into brick-and-mortar sex toy stores, they may feel overwhelmed by other customers who are in the store who can blur the line between sexual exploitation and sexual affirmation or sex shops that do not affirm sexuality equally.

              That is why we have created a safe and accessible place online to embrace the needs of individuals with disabilities. We are knowledgeable about people with all different abilities and are happy to reply to your questions.

              Some websites tend to be more sensual than informative. Our primary focus is sexual health and education, promoting a welcoming and relaxed environment where everyone can feel at ease. We aim to provide a valuable resource that enables you to craft passionate and intimate experiences for people of all abilities.

              In Closing

              As someone who connects with the neurodivergent community in many ways, writing this article was a labor of love. I sincerely invite you to contact me with suggestions or feedback about this resource or anything else we provide on our site. It is my greatest wish to be of service to those in the ASD community. We are here for you, and we celebrate you!

              Warmly, Lisa

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