Dr. Peter Gerhardt spoke yesterday in Toronto about helping autistic people transition to adulthood, with a focus on sexuality:
“When I talk to professional groups, they say ‘How do we get parents to want to address this?’ When I talk to parent groups, they say ‘How do we get professionals to want to address this?’ Part of it is that we’re both so reluctant to really talk about it.”
In a world where sexual “rights” are routinely discussed, Gerhardt told the audience that people with autism have as much a right to safe, healthy sex lives as the general population. But sex can present particular challenges for people with ASD.
“Because our guys have trouble understanding social nuance, it’s easy to get in trouble.” Saying that sexual experiences should happen in “private” is vague: how private? And people with autism can be particularly vulnerable to predators if they fail to recognize the signs of trouble.
It's an important question.
I made this "What If" video with my friend Adam that I like a lot, and I've been posting images from it on Facebook, to encourage people to watch it and to think about the questions.
One of the questions where my meaning is not clear is the one above. I know I whine about being gay a lot, but that's not what I intend to do here.
What I'm talking about is our tendency to view the sexuality of autistic people as a problem, not as a vital and potentially rewarding part of our lives. Some autistic people are asexual, and I think that's a valid choice. That's not what I'm talking about.
I'm talking about kids who aren't getting the sex ed they need because everybody is just hoping they will never develop any interest in sex. And when it's obvious that they are interested, people think they've done their job if they know enough to masturbate in private.
That's not to say that there isn't a lot to worry about when it comes to autism and sex. Our physical need for sex often develops years before we have the relationship skills to make sex with a partner a good idea. But instead of working with teens to understand that they should be working to have the skills to be able to date when they reach their late twenties or even later, we let them think that they can never develop dating skills. So they get frustrated and angry, and sometimes even violent.
I think this is a common thing, and I think it is big deal.
And it's not just with people who may never develop the skills to have a relationship. I have guys with Aspergers who can hold down a job tell me fairly often that they are giving up on the idea of finding a partner. And a lot of them are sad and angry about it.
We've got to do a better job of sex and relationship ed with kids who have Aspergers. And other types of autism, too.
I'm reposting the video below to invite you to join me in talking about autistic sexuality, and not being afraid of it anymore.
I have a number of secret Facebook groups related to autism and aspergers. They are secret because I want the members, myself included, to be able to speak frankly without all of their FB friends knowing about it.
I already have these groups. If you want to be added, send me a friend request with a message attached:
Adults on the Autism Spectrum Social Group
Autism Men's Discussion
Aspergers School Help for Students
Aspergers School Help for Parents
Anyway, I just started two new groups (warning strong language ahead):
LGBTQ Autism/Aspergers Group-- for people who are both in the autism community and also a member of a sexual minority, including people who are asexual.
Fucking Autistics-- for people in the autism community who want to talk frankly about sexuality.
You should also be sure to check out the thAutcast Facebook page, if you haven't.
Good answer, Adrian-- but that wasn't the question.
I agree with the approach that this Australian YouTube sex advisor takes to this question from a man with Asperger's syndrome, but completely disagree with the advice she gives. He wants to be a relationship with a woman who will sexually dominate him but does not know how to find one because of his difficulty reading social cues. She thinks that once he deals with some of the Asperger's syndrome, he may not want to be dominated anymore. I think that's nonsense.
The approach she takes of bringing in someone with Aspergers to help with the question makes sense. The advice Adrian gives for developing social skills in general is perfectly good, but not to the point. This man did not write and ask for beginner's tips on how to learn social cues as an aspie-- he's in his forties. I'm bothered that rather than helping this guy figure out how to get into the dom-sub relationship he wants, Mistress M and Adrian both assume that there is something wrong with him because of his Aspergers that he is trying to compensate for in his desire to be dominated sexually. So they ignore the question in favor of general purpose social skills advice.
I recently attended a discussion group for people who are in master-slave relationships. The most surprising thing to me was how many people there seemed to be on the spectrum. But then I thought about it and realized that there are actually many advantages to a power-imbalance relationship for someone with autism. One way, for example, to deal with how difficult it can be to be touched is to tie your partner up. Many of us enjoy intense sensations, like being paddled or even beaten.
And BDSM relationships have very specific rules. These can make sexual contact much more predictable and easier to handle for people with autism. People who pursue them also have to be comfortable with their bodies and objective about sexuality in a way that can be very helpful for people with ASD. It's clear: you're a dom, a sub, or a switch. You both explicitly agree to activities. You're allowed to stop things if they get too intense.
I'm not suggesting dom-sub relationships as a way of dealing with autism. I'm saying that they are a legitimate option for those of us who want them. The best source I know for learning about kinky sexual activity is Dan Savage's Savage Love. If you want to learn about the difference between fantasy and reality-- actually, if you want good, pragmatic advice about sexuality, start there.
"Within the bruises there were block pattern marks particularly to the forehead, top of the head, right side of the face and these are suggestive of marks used by a shod foot. The head and face areas are in keeping with being caused by punches, kicks and stamps.
"In relation to the lower back area, there was a sharp force injury which is a v-shaped injury and that could have been caused by the tip of a knife or glass. I had been informed that a screwdriver and pocket knife were recovered from the scene and both of those types of instrument could cause injuries like that."
He added that the rib injuries were consistent with being kicked.