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How My Autism Affects Sex, and How Sex Affects My Autism

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Let me start out by saying that for the longest time I didn’t really understand sex or anything attached to it, like flirting and being hit on. That’s not to say I’m completely unaware of how any of those work or why, or that I find it useless at all. Our country’s culture is steeped in and permeated with sex and sexuality. It’s easier for me to see the overall effects on people. I’m blind to it all when it comes to myself – when it’s blatantly obvious, I get it; when it’s subtle, I’m oblivious.

I was the girl in middle school who, upon everyone hitting puberty, didn’t get why all of my peers were pining over actors, musicians, and boybands, or even our fellow male classmates. I didn’t have that natural reaction. Sure, I liked a couple of boys I went to school with, but the drive, admiration, and lust that came with puberty flew right over me.

In my early 20s and college, that started to catch up, though I still felt very new and fresh to it, much like someone starting at a new school halfway through their education. They know the basic structure but are still trying to make sense of the new bearings and shifts in a similar yet alien environment. I constantly felt like I was behind everyone else my age, especially the women. I also was never one to deeply identify with my femininity. Like many others on the spectrum, I wax and wane with how much I connect with my gender. Sometimes it’s more natural, sometimes not. The same can be said for sexuality and its expression. I find that for many on the spectrum it’s more fluid in multiple ways.

Flirting: Unless I’m the one initiating, it feels awkward to me. Growing up, learning social cues and behavior from various support professionals and therapies never included dating and relationships in any capacity whatsoever. It’s something I learned as I went. If another person initiates flirting, depending on their style, technique, and tactics I either: freeze up and question their motives, think they’re just being nice, or it goes completely over my head and I don’t even recognize it happened. (If I had a dollar for every time I thought someone was simply being nice when in actuality they were trying to flirt with me… well, I’d at least be able to treat myself and a friend or two to dinner.)

Sex: Dating and having an intimate relationship means it’s inevitably going to come up. None of us as humans know what our preferences are in any regards until we explore and experience things. As we start, develop, and maintain relationships we learn those preferences, as well as how the mental, emotional, and physical beliefs and interactions of sex reflect back onto and influence us. We are all creatures who derive satisfaction from and continuously seek out anything that feels good to us. Individuals on the spectrum are not exempt. I crave intimacy because regardless of what I may have, it’s still a natural instinct. Like flirting, if I initiate sex I’m better able to control the sensory reactions that sometimes come up for me.

Participating in flirting and sex calls us to be present in those moments. With autism it means I’m constantly analyzing it. It’s automatic and subconscious. I actually have to tell myself somewhere in my brain to stop, loosen up the rigidity, and just feel and go with the flow.

Regardless of these variances, taking part in intimate and sexual experiences allows me to learn more about my comforts, identities, boundaries, and abilities. Depending where I am at on any given day in my mental, emotional, physical, energetic, and sensory capacities, experiences can be more of a challenge (whether knowing it could be beforehand or finding out as we go), yet there are just as many times, if not more, where I am able to gently push the autism comfort zone every time. By coaxing the boundary to lightly stretch, I not only allow myself to connect with, know, and understand myself better, but it creates an opportunity to do the same with my partner. Eventually this evolves to practicing deeper intimacy with family and friends, and creating a depth of relationship with others overall that previously has always been difficult for me to maintain or handle.

My autism affects sex in a multitude of ways, but far more, sex transforms my autism. As someone who continuously wants to learn exactly what they’re capable of in various ways, I fully and gratefully embrace the learning experiences it gives. Reaching out, feeling, and experiencing can be hard, but the multitude of treasures has been and continues to be far worth it.

Originally published: September 16, 2016
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