Sexuality and Autism, Part 4

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What About Sex and the Autistic?

As mentioned, it is very difficult to have a clear picture regarding the number of people, with autism, who have sex. This includes everything from masturbation to sex with a partner. The problem is because it is very difficult to track. Most people, autistics included, are not willing to tell you, “Oh, yes, I masturbate three times a week.” Or, in other situations, “Well, we have sex several times a week.”

So, we have little valid information to use. This is another area, of autism, with limited research. One article, written nearly 20 years ago, is Sexual Behavior in Adults with Autism, was by Mary E. Van Bourgondien, Nancy C. Reichle, and Ann Palmer. The authors based their article on 89 adults with autism. These people lived in group homes in North Carolina. The researchers determined that the most common sexual behavior was masturbation. In their article, they confirmed that accurate data is difficult to collect, “The results indicated that many adults with autism were interested in sexuality, but their experience was limited. Sexual experience, especially among males, was primarily masturbation. A small percentage of females had engaged in sexual activity beyond kissing and hugging.”

In another survey involving 100 parents with an autistic child, in the age range from nine to 38 years, Ruble and Dalrymble (1993) concluded, “Sixty-five percent of the sample were reported to touch their private parts in public, 23% masturbate in public, 18% touched the opposite sex inappropriately, and 14% masturbated with unusual objects.”

Some Surprising Statistics

A nationwide survey, from Denmark in 1992, by Haracopos and Pedersen collected data on 57 men and 24 women diagnosed with autism who lived in residential facilities. Their results indicated that, “68% of the adults were reported to masturbate with 60% of those achieving orgasm. Masturbation in public was reported in 53% of the sample and 31% reportedly used objects to masturbate.”

We never know the sexual future of an autistic child. However, aside from teaching them about puberty, it is also important for them to have some basic understandings. When a boy and girl, a man and woman with autism, face sexual interest and challenges there are several key components that should be instilled in each person.

  1. It is important for each person to develop trust in their partner.
  2. Each person will hopefully enjoy self-respect and a strong self-confidence.
  3. When meeting a potential partner, it is important to develop healthy communication skills to develop a better understanding of the partner.
  4. Sometimes it might be important to “negotiate” with a partner. If s/he wants to enjoy a sexual experience that is not comfortable with the other person, it is important to discuss this and then make a joint decision.
  5. It is most important to learn how to say” no.”

Another article, “Sexuality and Adolescents with Autism” (Koller, R,) made an interesting observation, “Sexuality education with learners and ASD is often regarded as a problem because it is not an issue, or is an issue because it is a problem.” The interpretation is that society generally ignores sexuality in regards to people with ASD until it becomes a problem. Then, it becomes a big problem. Per the article a more effective approach would be to “address sexuality as just another, albeit complex, instruction focus, the teaching of which promotes the ability of the individual to be safer, more independent and more integrated into their own communities resulting in a more positive quality of life.”

Out-of-Home Placement

Most every parent, of an autistic child, has life-long concerns about their growth and their future. One of the main concerns is sexuality. If the child lives at home it is easier to deal with a sexual issue when one arises; however, those living in group homes, residential centers, and so forth face a different situation (more so, if both sexes live in the same facility). The parent has little, if any control, as to the interactions their son/daughter has with another person. This can involve anything from inappropriate touching, to sexual intercourse.

In a small group home, it is much easier for staff to carefully observe inappropriate sexual behaviors. If a child is observed masturbating on a frequent basis, staff may be able to direct them to another area of the house, or to a different activity. In a large facility, this cannot always be so easily observed. This is when inappropriate solo, or partnered sexual behavior may take place. This can be more of an issue for a female than a male. The reason is because a male is usually stronger and can control a young woman; secondly a female has the potential of becoming pregnant.

The answer to these issues is that there isn’t an answer. As previously mentioned, if your child lives at home you have a much better opportunity to observe your child. If you are facing the possibility of out-of-home placement of your child, carefully observe the facility you have chosen. Discuss any issues you have with the staff. It is important to also meet with the manager of the home. If possible, you should consider checking with your state to see what type, if any, citations have been given to the facility.

Then, like many issues of autism, you just need to have a lot of faith and hope.

Until next time, have a good day and take great care of yourself.

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