Asperger’s Syndrome Sexuality, Part 3
“...the sensations of being flogged do not feel painful. In fact I tend to wear my handlers out, they can't take me over the edge. The nerves on my back are so overstimulated from just wearing a T-shirt that a flogging feels like a soft warm summer rain... or what I imagine a soft warm summer rain should feel like, since a soft warm summer rain actually feels like acid drops on my skin. The kiss of a whip hurts for such a brief moment that I'm never sure if anything happened at all. Yet locate these same sensations to my chest and flogging feels like just a heavy pounding, rain feels like rain, and a whip hurts like hell.”
Sexology is the study of “what people do and how they feel about it.” I am a sexologist and so I take what people say about their intimate lives very seriously. Because I do not judge or shame people, they tell me honestly what they do, how they feel. The words you have just read were shared by a man who gave me permission to use his quotes in an article. He originally posted in a forum consisting mostly of people on the autism spectrum and considers himself to be neurodiverse.
Parents, do you know where your adult children are? These columns are not written for an audience of parents, per se, and yet I recognize that some parents probably have read them. Being a parent myself, I recognize that this opening paragraph may not be comfortable for many (or any) of the parents who come across this topic. There are many reasons for parental discomfort and perhaps this is a something to write about in a future column...
Yet a certain number of adults on the autism spectrum—perhaps more than we might think—do share similar sensory variables and may choose to explore them through various forms of erotic sensation play, including BDSM. Do the parents know? Did they suspect? Were they realistically and intelligently prepared to witness the emergence of their adult children’s erotic nature and allow for variations in behavior that represent the individual’s own chosen accommodation to sensory needs and sociosexual desires? Were those parents able to provide age-appropriate guidance, as their child approached the age of consent, as to safety in erotic play, negotiation of boundaries, and avoidance of predators? I doubt it. There are few guidelines for this kind of parenting and still less support for it. In the 21st century, we still struggle with the advisability of providing “comprehensive” (though vanilla and heterocentrist) sex education to minors. Public policy seems most comfortable with just telling kids to “say no” until they’re old enough to let us all off the hook. I’ll admit I’m biased enough to consider the latter option a cop out... and a tragedy. And that goes double with regard to people on the autism spectrum.
In the last four years I’ve had many exchanges with people on the Asperger’s and autism spectrum: in person, emails, posts in social networking sites, and, of course, through my two surveys. Many people have been generous in sharing their insights and experiences and some have given me permission to include their words in articles and research. I am very grateful to everyone who has spoken or written to me on this topic and, especially, to those who participated in the surveys.
Besides gathering personal anecdotes and some data, I’ve read widely across several varied disciplines. I’ve attended conferences and workshops on autism and disabilities. Naturally I have slid into some theoretical ideas about the ways in which neurodiversity and sensory perceptions can affect sexual behavior and the kinds of attitudes, education, and clinical responses that are potentially helpful for those who desire satisfactory sex lives. Not all of these ideas have been substantiated or dismissed by research; hopefully I can do more of that work in the future. But I bring these ideas out as indications, as potentially fruitful issues and approaches for all of us—lovers, clinicians, and parents—to look at and toss around.
As you read the rest of this column, I hope you’ll realize that I am not suggesting or pushing or advocating any particular approach here, other than that of keeping an informed, open mind. Any recommendations or suggestions I would make as a helping professional would depend completely on the individual’s needs and desires within the context of that individual’s relationships and chosen mode of life.