Asperger’s Syndrome Sex
Obsessive special interests. Lack of emotional affect. Stereotyped gestures. Speaks in a monotone... Dr. Alfred Kinsey began his career collecting thousands of gall wasp specimens but changed the world by diligently researching thousands of human sex histories. Kinsey was probably an Aspie.
Dr. Mary Jane Sherfey, another pioneering sex researcher and author of The Nature and Evolution of Female Sexuality, described her former teacher: “...he rarely smiled at us. Neither face nor voice seemed to reveal an emotional reaction to anything... Dr. Kinsey was, unquestionably, one of the ten worst dressed men of eminence this country has ever produced. His head was covered with flying hair that always seemed as if it had invented a scheme for defying combs. His clothes were almost execrable; nonetheless he invariably wore a little bow tie... there he stood week after week with the dead-pan face and nasal voice twanging monotonously on and on and on...” Sherfey goes on to say, “Why in later years did I always put Dr. Kinsey’s name at the top of the list of the best college teachers I had; and yet be unable to explain why?”
By the time I saw Liam Neeson’s portrayal of Kinsey, I was already accomplished at spotting quirky Asperger’s Syndrome-like characters in movies, television and books: Annie Savoy in Bull Durham; Mr. Spock (an easy pick!); the younger Hermione Granger in Harry Potter; all three major characters in Ghost World; Henry Higgins (especially as played by Leslie Howard); Sherlock Holmes (as originally written and especially as played by Jeremy Brett); Jacque Tati as Mr. Hulot; the train enthusiasts in The Station Agent; just to name a few. But since Alfred Kinsey is historical, not fictional, I was pleased to find later that my hunch had been a good one. Ioan James devotes a whole chapter to Dr. Kinsey in Asperger’s Syndrome and High Achievement.
As the study of human sexual behavior owes quite a lot to the gifts and determination of at least one Aspie researcher (and I am sure there are others!), it seems fitting that I chose Asperger’s Syndrome and sexuality as my own first foray into sex research.
I had close to 100 survey respondents: 50 men and 47 women. The people who participated in my lengthy survey included those with an official diagnosis of AS and one with autism; those who suspected they might qualify for a diagnosis; those who identified as “Aspie” with or without a diagnosis; and about 17 NT (neurotypical) partners. As this is a column and not a journal article, I won’t go into detail about methodologies, demographics and conclusions. I also admit that my student survey could have been better. Even so, I received some fascinating revelations, especially in the open-ended responses. More on this in a moment...
On the Autism Spectrum
Asperger’s Syndrome is usually included in the “autism spectrum.” Some people differentiate AS from “high functioning autism” by saying that AS people have a greater desire for social interaction than people who are more classically autistic. The problem is, AS people struggle greatly with the demands and nuances of social—and sexual—interaction for a number of reasons and often fail to achieve the friendships and relationships they desire. Another feature of the AS condition is the propensity to have one or more consuming “special interests,” like Kinsey and gall wasps and Kinsey and sex research.
While people with autism have always been with us, the condition was not scientifically recognized or treated until comparatively recently. Before that people who showed extreme signs of autism were shunned as possessed or presumed to be changelings. They were probably often institutionalized, abused, given or sold into slavery, and/or killed. I once watched a fairy-like child walking through the park on her tiptoes. She was probably nine or 10. She knew exactly what was supposed to happen at various times of the day but didn’t know the word for grass. Such fey unworldliness might indeed seem magical to some and threatening to others.