Sex on the Spectrum

Sex on the Spectrum

Hot promiscuous autistic people near you

“The first time me and Shayna were having sex, at one point they kinda looked up and said ‘Do you like porridge?’”

Simply looking up the keywords “autism” and “sex” returns questions like “Can you consent to sex if you have autism?” and “How can an autistic partner be intimate?” A lot of the narratives around Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) frame those with the condition as a sort of ‘other’ to be studied, rather than a collective of diverse humans with diverse voices. While studies show autistic people are more likely to identify as asexual (or another sexual minority) than the general population, there are plenty on the spectrum who do pursue an active sex life – a fact often overlooked. A reporter from Critic Te Arohi sat down with some fellow autistic folks to talk sex, intimacy and freaky shit. 

Flynn, a straight male aged 20, greeted me in the pitch blackness. The hippie retreat he was staying at was eerie at this time of night, and the native bush seemed to swallow us whole as we approached his cabin. Flynn's room was filled with carefully arranged possessions, the walls lined with pictures of him and his friends. A macrame pot hanger by his bed housed multiple sex toys. He rolled a cigarette, and apologised for the mess – he'd already had two partners over that week. It was a Wednesday. "My behaviour conflicts with my condition," Flynn said. "People I've known for many months haven't come to the conclusion I'm autistic because I behave in a very sexualised manner, and vice versa… I enjoy the same kind of pleasure as anyone else."

Flynn emphasised that he’s come a long way since his autism diagnosis at age 12. Among his autistic traits are hyper- and hyposensitivity to certain stimuli, creating sensory issues that can lead to a sensory overload or shutdown.  Flynn said he was able to “find a way around the sensory issues that once held me back”. These issues are expected in everyday contexts, but they are seldom discussed with regard to sexual ones. “It's the same with sex,” he continued, “I've learned to embrace the stimulation, the excitement, to the point where it fuels me. It's led to me being more intimate than the neurotypical standard would be, which throws a lot of people off." He answered questions rapidly and eloquently, occasionally apologising for getting off track. Flynn told me that he firedances as a hobby these days. He spoke of “the flow” of movement, something he likened to sex. “Every partner dances in such different ways,” he said, “it’s communication; not of the lips and tongue, but far deeper." He hates small talk, but is “drawn to overwhelming sensations”, both in and out of the bedroom. “I've been able to live what some might quantify to be a normal existence, and yet I'm doing so on my own terms.” 

Lily* is 19, queer, female-aligned, and autistic. She elected to do her interview over text, so as not to disturb her flatmates. I asked her questions over recorded voice messages, which she said helped her with tone. Her profile was littered with minimalist photos of insects and landscapes. “I was diagnosed with autism last year and had to kind of figure that out for myself,” Lily’s first message stated, “because I’m female, and not white, and I can mask to a reasonable extent so it wasn’t picked up on earlier.” Autistic masking, otherwise known as social camouflaging, is a coping strategy some autistic people – especially autistic women – employ to help blend into the neurotypical world, often to the point of emotional stress or fatigue. Similarly to ADHD, previously covered by Critic, the criteria and perceptions around ASD centre around typically-presenting white males, meaning those outside those bounds are often left behind. “It makes being myself just a little bit harder,” said Lily.

“It was unpleasant growing up undiagnosed,” Lily continued. She sent long messages with ease. “I couldn’t have known that I wasn’t ‘wrong’, just different. It also explained why I was so anxious when learning the social rules around sexual activity.” As a result, she initially didn’t know that she could have sex without sensory overload, “or that I needed clearer communication from my partner to be able to enjoy it”. Lily is “particular” towards the sensation of certain clothes or foods, is pained by the cold, and is “almost always wearing headphones”. She told me that “During sexual activity I’m quite temperature sensitive, but I’m more dissociated from it then because I’m enjoying myself. Sex is one of my special interests so it can sometimes overrule other discomforts.” Sex positivity and the kink community is a topic she “loves learning new things about”, as one of her favourite topics of autistic hyperfixation, or special interest.  Kink is “an interesting way of including sensory stuff in a relatively regular activity”, said Lily. “Getting to practise rope ties for fun was a great way of indulging in it while staying safe when I was younger.” Lily enthused that “kink and BDSM has so many rules, and is so structured with the clearest communication ever!”, which has helped her circumvent social difficulties associated with autism. “If someone outside of a kink space asked [for consent]” in an everyday, nonsexual context, Lily would be “pleased, but surprised”.

I called Helena and Shayna in Wellington over dinner. Helena is a trans woman and her partner Shayna is nonbinary, both in their early twenties. I’ve personally been friends with Helena for years due to both being very gay and very goth, and we both came to the realisation that we were autistic around the same time. Shayna is autistic too, and they sat in on the interview to help out. Their first date was getting chips together while Helena was in town for a gig. “A lot of my social interactions are chip-based,” laughed Helena, adding that “Shayna thought I was hot and mysterious until the second I opened my mouth.” Helena said, “When it comes to actual intimacy I’m really bad at reading signals,” she continued, “even a year and a half into our relationship, Shayna often has to be like ‘Babe, I’m trying to make out with you and you’re explaining disease spillover events’” – one of Helena’s special interests. Such a queer, loving, autistic relationship has been eye-opening for both of them. “At this point I wouldn’t date a person who isn’t autistic ever again,” said Helena. It leads to a certain relaxed, uniquely neurodiverse atmosphere. “The first time me and Shayna were having sex, at one point they kinda looked up and said ‘Do you like porridge?’.”

I asked Helena if she believed there were any reasons why her autism went unrecognised for so long. “I’m hot,” was her answer. “And I’m goth,” she added, for good measure.

Though both Helena and Shayna have trouble with social cues normally, they are more than able to communicate well with each other. Sensory issues still pose an issue, however, even in the bedroom. “Our room is weirdly echoey and we’d be in the midst of it and one or both of us would get very distracted by how echoey the room was,” Shayna said. “During sex I don’t think I have any sensory issues other than being very distracted by sounds,” said Helena, “I was really opposed to anything to do with latex, just thinking about the sound makes me want to peel my skin off.. I didn’t realise I’m actually into latex until very recently, just cause I was thinking about the sound of balloons.” I mentioned how much the sound of vibrators turns me off, to which Helena said, “I have a similar thing. I’m just in that crossover between autistic and musician where I’m tryna figure out what note the vibration is.” Shayna added, “For the longest time she thought she just wasn’t good at getting spanked and stuff in bed… when there’s a pinch or a slap – giggles.” This made Helena giggle again. “The one thing you can do to make sex better,” Shayna told me, “is to stop thinking it needs to be sexy all the time, ‘cos it’s gonna be awkward and weird, and autistic people are better at being awkward and weird.” 

Keegan, 24, is a musician, who makes smooth alternative funk under the name Velveteen Shakes. “I have some jams about being autistic and horny,” he told me. It was a late night call, and he had a crisp voice like a radio host.  “I write a lot of my music about it ‘cos it’s kinda a double edged sword being diagnosed that young.” He’s a straight man, and was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (now known as a form of ASD) in early primary school. Growing up with the knowledge he was autistic was a stigmatising but enlightening experience for Keegan, and that combined with his love of musical showmanship plus his Māori background is something he attributes to his extroversion and confidence. “Being able to work on that stuff means now when I tell people I’m autistic they're like, ‘Oh, but you talk so well!’” Keegan said. These misconceptions apply to being sexually active as well. “They don’t think of autism and sex as compatible,” he said, “especially compared to most media representations.”  Autistic people are often infantilised by mainstream media, which favours an overly sterile, almost robotic savante stereotype. Though these stereotypes are easy to internalise, they often contradict the lived autistic experience. Removing the psychological and social barriers of stigmatisation and stereotype opens up a shared world of exploration for autistic young people. He called me a “sigma goth autistic” because of it. “It’s so funny ‘cos myself and every autistic person I know is so emotional. Like we’re so fucking sensitive and creative,” he laughed. “It’s interesting that the perception is that we're basically robots. Like, nah man, we like to make art and fuck.” 

“I think because I’ve grown up so aware of the importance of communication and the potential barriers there are for me,” Keegan said, “it makes it very important for me to make sure that communication with sex is at the forefront, and make sure we are always on the same page. Sometimes I’m worried it’s gonna kill the mood a bit, but it never does and that’s great. It like, actively improves the mood.” Keegan’s sensory issues are another major challenge for him, but he explained that there are “advantages and disadvantages.” He said that “There’s some great BDSM stuff you can do with it. Good things tend to feel really fucking good. You can also get sensory overload in the bedroom,” Keegan continued, “which doesn’t cut things short but it means you need to take a break, or you kinda need to ‘stop getting sensations’ which is counterproductive but beneficial to stamina.” I told him he can just say ‘pull out’, to which he laughed. His openness towards sex was easy to riff off of: “Sensory overload is like ‘Just give me two minutes and I’ll hop back on’,” I joked. “That’s the funny thing about sensory overload,” he continued, “you just need to have that time to yourself and then you can get right back to what you were doing, whether that be walking through a crowded place or fuckin’.”  

“My closing statement to all neurotypicals out there,” Keegan said, “is that horny autistics are among you. You cannot escape us. We will always be there. And you should fuck one of us. You should fuck a lot of us, cos it’ll be a great fucking time. Your needs will be so thoroughly taken care of and it will be SO communicative.”

I was fortunate enough to have time to interview Percy, who is 21 and a queer trans man. He is a talented artist, and his carefulness translates to his speech. He was thorough and succinct, pausing only to puff on a vape. “I find I tend to get infantalised quite a lot,” he said, “and a lot of people are like ‘Wait, you can’t be sexually active ‘cos you’re autistic.’” Growing up being socialised as a woman he finds himself “okay” with most social situations, and like other autistic people I spoke to, he has adapted towards over-communicating to avoid errors. Still, there’s a certain freedom towards an autistic approach to sex. Percy said that “I think the moment I learned what sex was I wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed about it. It’s just another thing that people do,” autistic people included. Schedule rigidity and sensory overload still present issues, however, along with masking. The affinity for scheduling and planning that some autistics have can apply to sex as well, and Percy finds himself organising his whole day around it, which can be frustrating if it goes awry. “It’s a whole fucking event,” said Percy, “sometimes I’m just thinking about the cheese in my fridge or a video game I wanna complete tonight, and I kinda just lose interest.” He’s efficient and direct with partners, too: “I’m like ‘here’s a list of the things I’m into, the things I’m not into’ – they’re categorised, they’re labelled, it’s been, like, colour-coded,” he joked.

“Because I get really overstimulated in a lot of situations, kink during sex has actually really been beneficial,” Percy said. “The sensory play is quite fun for me because it’s something overstimulating that I can control.” Intrigued, I asked if he had any pointers on coping with sensory overload during sex. “I personally use safe words regardless of if it’s a kink scenario or not. It’s really important, especially when you can have people with autism who are non verbal or limitedly verbal.” The intersections between queerness, kink and autism are important to Percy. “There’s like this weird liminal space between the way that everybody sees autistics and the way that autistic people who engage in sex actually are,” he said. Factoring in being a trans man adds an extra layer of fear of being seen as a “predator”. It’s something he’s acutely aware of and actively fights against. “You have to juggle these things when thinking about sex.” Percy is proud of his autistic hyper-aware communication and his “black and white” strong morals. “In my autistic brain, that rigidity and that adherence to my own personal set of rules is more important than anything,” Percy said.

“We’re people,” he concluded. “We have sex. It’s not that complicated.” 

This article first appeared in Issue 16, 2022.
Posted 6:07pm Monday 25th July 2022 by Lotto Ramsay.