Friday, 11 April 2014

Aspie's and sexuality

I believe that the subject of sexuality and Asperger’s needs to be discussed more and in an open way. The purpose of this post is to help people understand the topic a little more and discuss some things that can be done to improve outcomes in regards to relationship understanding for Aspies.

I would like to firstly point out Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as it is a good framework to consider when looking at improving quality of life. As seen in the drawing below, arguably sex is one of the most important motivators with sexual intimacy and friendship being on the third most important level. Maslow acknowledged the likelihood that the different levels of motivation could occur at any time in the human mind, but he focused on identifying the basic types of motivation and the order in which they should be met.

The difficulties that Aspies face vary from individual to individual, however there are a lot of commonalities. Research into the sexual understanding of Aspies is in its infancy however studies (and my personal experiences and of other Aspies) suggest that Aspies are as interested sex (and intimate relationships) as anyone else, but many struggle with the myriad of complex skills required to successfully negotiate intimate relationships. In my research into the subject I have also noticed that although some Aspies (like myself) don’t have major sensory issues, others do which can make intimacy a challenge. AS will also affect communication, both verbal and nonverbal, social interaction and empathic thought. It can also cause obsessive interests, need for structure and routine, motor clumsiness

People with Asperger syndrome can sometimes appear to have an ‘inappropriate’, ‘immature’ or ‘delayed’ understanding of sexual codes of conduct. This can sometimes result in sexually inappropriate behaviour. For example, a 20-year-old with Asperger syndrome may display behaviours which befit a teenager.

Even individuals who are high achieving and academically or vocationally successful can have trouble negotiating the ‘hidden rules’ of courtship. 

As Dr Tony Attwood says in the new book published by JKP “Been There, Done That, Try This!” “Their (Aspies) sources of information on sexuality may not be peers or personal experiences, but more likely the media, literature and possibly pornography.” This is why specific education needs to be provided to Aspies as more in-depth education will fill in the gaps that cause by lack of intuition. Specific sexual education is also important to help avoid such issues as Aspies getting into trouble with the law by acting inappropriately (such as accessing illegal pornography or stalking potential partners) and becoming victims of sexual assault because they got taken advantage of and in some cases this is caused (through no fault of their own) by not knowing what the intentions of their partner are. searching for a suitable educational programmes that relate to AS and sexuality I found one include many relevant topics and to be in a group structure which will also help participants to improve on their social skills. The program can be found in full in the book “Asperger’s Syndrome and Sexuality From Adolescence Through Adulthood” By Isabelle Henault. As far as I know this educational programme is the only programme to be developed and tested and is specifically to meet the needs of people with AS.  The course includes 12 workshops, each with its own topic. Although previously unpublished, the programme has been empirically validated and tested in practice with four groups. The results from these trials are also found in the book.

Through more exposure of this issue I believe that more organisations will realise that there is a need for specific education programs for Aspies and will look into the issue of sexuality more and develop and refine programs to suit this need for education. Also Aspies will realise there are resources out there to help them recognise their deficits and how to work around them.

If you have any comments/questions on this article or there is anything that you would like me to cover in a future blog post (as I want to write an article more in depth in the future regarding AS and sexuality) please leave a comment.

For anyone interested in reading about the perspective of a male Aspie (written in first person) using internet dating successfully please see Garry Burge's post here.


  1. Just a couple of notes...

    Asperger's is just a sliver of a broader Autism Spectrum, of which I am also a part. Your blog post is probably of broader interest to all with high functioning ASD, so please don't restrict yourself to a narrower subset. I think you can address the larger high functioning ASD community here.

    Autists may find some great level of success in the BDSM community. I know there's a lot of social stigma about BDSM, but it's kind of silly consider what a broad slice of society actively participates in BDSM at some level or another. One of the things that BDSM provides that sets the autist up for sexual & relationship success is a structure to work within. There are some simple rules that are mutually understood, there are paths of progression in different areas of interest, and all of this works well within the autist's need for structure.

    Also, I don't know if any formal studies have been done on this yet, but I believe participants in the BDSM culture skew towards a higher average IQ than societal norms. Kink agrees with capable, open minds.

    1. Interesting comment, as Asperger's no longer actually exists (according to the DSM V) I use the it loosely to describe HFA.

      In regards to your comment on BDSM, if practiced in a safe environment, like other sexual practices, can be a good way to experience intimate encounters. Do you have any SFW resources on how to practice BDSM safely (regarding consent, boundaries etc.)?

    2. Yes, Haarvey!
      I have found BDSM particularly helpful for so many reasons. Sometimes I have hypo-sensitive days where I uhh need firmer contact, sometimes I have aggressive tensions.
      Having a safety word is such a fantastic and useful principle for me as an ASD individual, we use it when I suddenly need my partner to stop talking, when I need to get out of somewhere... any situation at all, it's a lifesaver. It means "No questions, no judgements, no nothing, STOP NOW".
      On top of that, the community is amazing. Ben, this wouldn't be entirely SFW but have a look at sometime. Almost everyone there is happy to answer any random question in the most genuine, helpful way. The experienced BDSM crew tend to approach it from a psychological standpoint, curious about and sensitive to peoples needs, and very perceptive about them too.
      Not once has anyone had a bad or flinching reaction to my ASD status.
      I'm sure there are noobs there, but I've had a hard time finding them.

  2. Thanks Ben, this definitely is a topic that needs more discussion, and Isabelle Hénault has done a terrific job with her book (which is also available in French, by the way). I'm a little concerned about the disjunct between your introductory paragraph about finding work for those of us on the spectrum, and your blog topic of sexuality. Workplaces aren't supposed to mix the two, though they often end up doing so anyway. You might want to talk about this potential land-mine from an autistic perspective. Giving the wrong signals -- through just trying to pay attention -- is a very common problem!

    1. Thanks for your feedback Jackie. The topics in the blog have changed since I first started the blog and have now changed the title and description to reflect this.Also I plan to write more blogs about the topic but as I am relatively in-experienced in this area I will have to do more research and am considering interviewing various people on the spectrum to gain a wider perspective.

  3. Thank you for posting this important topic. I have had many awkward sexual encounters and an ill-advised marriage due to my naivete about sexuality and courtship. I am fortunate that I was not harmed and did not contract an STD. I can see the BDSM community being a good resource for adults with ASD mainly because of the focus on discussing boundaries and limits, and the practice of tentatively trying new activities without committing to them. I think the ideal resource would be more of a beginner's sexuality program that emphasizes this type of thorough communication. Activities the mainstream media associates with BDSM can be frightening.

    1. I agree with you Oqobo. The basics must be learnt first before going into any specific sexual practices. AS I mentioned in the blog the course in Isabelle Hénault book is a great course that covers all the basics to experience their sexuality while staying safe.

    2. Thanks Ben. I have made a request for my county library to purchase that book.

  4. Ben,

    If you are ever interested in writing about your dating experiences -- good and bad -- on, you have a standing invitation.

    1. Thank-you Jeremy, I will take your offer into consideration.

  5. 'Interested sex (and intimate relationships) as anyone else, but many struggle with complex skills required to for intimate relationships'.
    Check. So I became polyamorous.
    'AS will also affect communication, both verbal and nonverbal, social interaction and empathic thought. It can also cause obsessive interests, need for structure and routine'
    Check. Brony gamer. My other current obsession is my work and reading.

    'People with Asperger syndrome can sometimes appear to have an ‘inappropriate’, ‘immature’ or ‘delayed’ understanding of sexual codes of conduct. This can sometimes result in sexually inappropriate behavior.'

    Check. I'm pretty much always 'sexually inappropriate' and it gets me into hella trouble.
    Been apart of the kink scene and that last one is a HUGE problem for me. Like I wanna be immature yet charming myself but due to my inappropriate-ness makes me not want to socialize with the community.
    Anyway found your blog on google plus and I'll sub both my accounts to continue reading what you and Gary have to say.

    1. Thanks for your positive comments Evan, I am glad you relate to and are interested in my blogs.

  6. Hi Ben,
    Really enjoyed reading your pieces and am looking forward to your next blogs. Am participating in a Focus Group for Research on Aspergers next Monday in Melbourne, will let you know how it goes. I August as you know I'll be attending the meeting on 23rd to which Tony Attwood will attend, then have appointments with Kate and maybe Sylvia from UQ as well as one scheduled with David Zimmerman on 28th. Hope to meet you in person at the meeting on 23rd August.

  7. Hello Ben,
    I want to thank you for making this post about sexuality from an Aspie mindset. My son, 15 yrs old, was recently diagnosed, but we knew when he was 3 yrs old that he had AS. It's been a long, hard road, but we have a long way to go. It's helpful to know there are others there with high functioning AS.
    Thank you for your honesty. I look forward to reading more from you.
    Mom T

  8. I totally agree that this subject needs to be discussed more we should connect. Http://