How does ASD affect Sexuality?

Many people in the community assume people with autism or disabilities are not interested in sex or are not sexually active.

This is not true; many people with ASD become sexually active, but often do not understand the consequences.

• People with ASD have the same biological functioning as others but lack the maturity and social skills to deal with sexuality like others do.

• People with ASD have the same goals as others of their own age- they may seek a boyfriend/girlfriend/relationship but have more difficulty than the average teen in initiating contact with appropriate peers to build a relationship.

• People with ASD are often misinformed about sexuality – they have fewer friends to discuss issues with and may have had poorer quality or less sex education.

• They do not naturally acquire this knowledge from other sources and what they do know is likely to be fragmented and inaccurate.

• The person with ASD may have many questions about sex and related topics, but not know who to ask.

• They are also more likely to engage in inappropriate sexual behaviour, have less knowledge of privacy and have poor sexual education.

• People with autism have the right to form relationships and have sexual experiences. It is important they receive adequate education and resources to be able to undertake this part of their life safely, legally and in an appropriate manner.

• Young people with ASD need the information to make SAFE AND INFORMED CHOICES.

• Many people with ASD desire long term relationships, intimacy and sexual contact but can be often easily rejected which can affect self-esteem and wellbeing.

• It is important families, schools and service providers treat issues of puberty, sexuality and relationships with the utmost respect and sensitivity as the attitudes passed on the person with ASD can have a profound and lasting effect.

• People with ASD are more vulnerable to abuse due to difficulties in communication and social skills. They may not know what predatory sexual behaviour is, understand who may target them, how to protect themselves or recognise the signals when their body is telling them something is wrong.

People in relationships with a partner with ASD report normal sexual interactions or increased sex drive, some report less sex and intimacy due to issues with communication and sensory or tactile concerns.

• Young people with ASD may become sexually active with other people at a later age than peers and may take longer to find a boyfriend/girlfriend

• One of the obvious signs of a young person wanting to become sexually active is when they start noticing the bodies of others and begin engaging in masturbation. It can be a challenging and difficult issue for parents to deal with.

• People in long term relationships report having either less sex due to communication and physical difficulties, normal sex lives or over active sex drives.

Same sex attraction
• It is important that young people with autism learn that it is ok to be attracted to someone of the same sex, or to be gay.

• The young person with autism may be very confused about same sex attractions and what being gay means for themselves or others.

• The young person may be fascinated in the concept and want to ask a lot of questions.

The population of people with ASD who are homosexual is similar to the mainstream population .  Many people with ASD may experiement with their sexuality or have a same sex encounter.

Further reading

Asperger’s Syndrome and Sexuality: From Adolescence Through to adulthood – Tony Attwood
Living Safer Sexual Lives, Patsie Frawlie

Sex, sexuality and Aspergers syndrome by Wendy Lawson
Aspergers in love, Maxine Aston
Aspergers in long term relationships, Ashley Stanford

For assistance with sexuality issues related to autism