Today we dive into a topic that is rarely talked about with regards to autistic people: sex. While cultural stereotypes would lead you to believe that autistic people are not interested in sex, many of us are, though sex can present unique challenges for autistic people. While there are quite a few autistic people who are asexual, there are autistic people of every sexuality and there are even autistic people who are hypersexual. So today, we’re going to get into the nitty gritty and talk about sex while autistic.
Engaging in sex as an autistic person can present unique challenges and considerations. Many autistic people experience their senses as more or less sensitive than non-autistic people. This can cause some difficulties when it comes to sex. For those of us who are hypersensitive to touch, loving caresses can be too much too handle. Many of us are sensitive to light touch which can be painful. This can be a challenge for the autistic person and their partner(s) as touches that are typically considered sensual can be excruciating for the autistic person. For those who are hyposensitive to touch, a harder touch than is typical may be necessary to feel pleasure.
Sensory issues can also come into play with regards to bodily fluids. For some autistic people, this isn’t a problem. However, for others, the fluids that are exchanged during sex can be sensory hell. The sticky feeling of these fluids can set off sensory issues that can trigger sensory overload or even a meltdown. This is something that is hard to navigate as these fluids are naturally produced as a part of the sexual experience. Keeping paper towels or something else to wipe up fluids frequently can make the experience more pleasurable for those who are hypersensitive to the feeling of these fluids.
Further, sex involves a lot of different sensations. There is a lot of sensory input going on. This can be very overwhelming for autistic people. To help with these issues, a change of pace may be necessary (going slower) or there may need to be less involvement of hands/mouths so that there is less sensory input at one time. Some autistic people get so overwhelmed by the sensory experience of sex that they end up melting down or shutting down. Even for autistic people who don’t typically experience this, if we are more sensitive on a particular day, sex can bring about overload or meltdowns/shutdowns. This is something I’ve experienced before and I felt so bad for my husband because we were having a good time when all of a sudden it became too much and I started crying and freaking out. He, the wonderful man that he is, handled things really well, but it was a very memorable experience (which is saying something for someone with as bad a memory as me).
As meltdowns and shutdowns can come into play during sex, it’s important to have a plan in place in case these events occur. Many autistic people lose the ability to speak during a shutdown/meltdown, so it is important to have a nonverbal form of communication arranged ahead of time. This could be hand signals or a certain touch that means stop or other signals for different needs that may arise. Regardless of what method of communication you and your partner(s) choose, it is vital to have a way to communicate if you go nonverbal.
On that note, communication in general is so important when engaging in sexual activities. We should all know about enthusiastic, informed, on-going consent, but beyond obtaining consent, there is a lot of communication needed when an autistic person engages in sex. For instance, if you know that you have certain sensitivities, it’s important to make your partner(s) aware of these before starting activities. Be very clear with your partner(s) about what you like and what you don’t like. While this is important for people of any neurotype when engaging in sexual activity, it’s especially important for autistic people given the risk of meltdowns or shutdowns as the result of said activities.
Further, many autistic people receive substandard or no sexual education, particularly those who are in special education programs. Because of the assumption that autistic people aren’t interested in sex combined with the infantilized view many hold of autistic people, we simply aren’t educated in the ways we need to be. Autistic people often need more explicit instruction than non-autistic people. So not only are we not getting the education, but we typically need more education than others. Autistic people often have no one to ask about topics related to sex and sexuality which leaves us in a grey space of uncertainty that leaves us more open to be taken advantage of as we are not sure where the lines are.
Autistic sexuality is beautiful thing. While hypersensitivities can cause difficulties during sex, it can also make things all the more mind-blowingly awesome. Plenty of autistic people really enjoy sex and we need to work on changing this cultural idea that autistic people are inherently non-sexual. We need to be more open in our discussion of autistic sexuality. It shouldn’t be a taboo subject or one that needs to be whispered about in privacy. We need open and honest communication. We need real sex ed for autistic people. We need society to realize that, yes, we have sex and, yes, we can enjoy it.
Autistic readers, what pitfalls or challenges have you encountered with sex that seem to differ from the non-autistic experience? Share your thoughts in the comments!