Autism and Sex
by Laura Shumaker, Writer and Autism Advocate
I was at Barnes and Noble yesterday and overheard a little girl of about 4 ask her mother this question:
"If you have the egg in your tummy, how does Daddy help it hatch? Does he have to sit on you?"
the early days of "the talk". I remember them well. The questions sneak
up on you when you least expect them and you need to be ready introduce
the topic without falling apart.
Helping a child with autism comprehend the topic of sex is especially tricky,(at least in my experience), so much so that many parents hope it will never become "an issue".
Today, my friend Lindsey Nebeker, a young woman with autism, shares her perspective about love, sex and autism. Her story was recently featured on ABC.
So What's the Fascination With Autism and Sex?
slight uncomfortable laughter was shared among the crowd of mothers
sitting in a circle as one mother said quietly, "I'm really trying to
avoid bringing up the topic of sex to my son. I hope that day doesn't
come up soon."
This was during a recent speaking engagement I
gave to a parent support group. I arranged for all of us to sit around
in a circle since the group was small enough to pull that off. I often
find that with circle-style seating, the conversation becomes more
open-ended, and I hear more from my audience. And the conversation can
get very interesting--such as when it turns into a conversation about
autism and sex.
was tempted to chuckle at the level of discomfort these mothers had in
linking the words "autism" and "sex", but kept to myself and gave a
quiet smile. I understand why they would feel that way. Parents often
find it awkward to have the "sex talk" with their kids.
a child with a developmental disability, it can be even more awkward
for parents to initiate the "sex talk". Whenever I ask parents about
this, the number one reason they give is that they are unable to tell
the level of ability their child or teen will have in grasping such
topics. And with such a spectrum of cognitive levels, who can blame
these parents for wondering? There is no single formula to educate an
individual with autism on sexual topics, and the teaching approaches
will vary from person to person.
we can't deny, however, is that individuals with autism and
developmental disabilities go through puberty, experience hormonal
changes, become curious about their own bodies, and are sexual creatures
by nature--just like anyone else. Some people are asexual, and some
people never desire to seek a romantic companion. However, just because
an individual has autism does not mean they lack hormones and the
natural development of a sex drive.
the autism community, all this is well known. The parents and
professionals who work with adolescents can tell you about it, and the
adolescents and adults with autism can share that as well. Even though
my brother, James, is non-verbal and has not established the skills of
romantic companionship, my parents and I know he is aware of his
hormonal shifts and his natural development of sex drive. Then, there
are other autistic individuals (and plenty of them) who do have a desire
to seek a partnership, get into relationships, and even marry and raise
children of their own.
the general population and mainstream media, autism plus sexuality is
an unfamiliar phenomenon. But as the topic is gradually introduced to
the limelight, people are becoming more aware. One really good example
was when the movie Mozart and the Whale (starring Josh Hartnett) came out in 2005, loosely based on the love story of Jerry and Mary Newport. Shortly
after, their book Mozart and the Whale: An Asperger's Love Story was
published. This was the first major story on autism and relationships I
can recall that really stood out in the mainstream media. The movie and
the book had come out right around the time Dave and I started dating,
so they definitely served as inspirations to me. I wished for more
stories like that to reach out to the general audience.
That is why Dave and I were ecstatic to share our story when we were approached a few years later by Glamour magazine.
I hadn't really paid much attention to the content in women's interest
magazines in the past, but we both knew it was a major publication and
were aware of how big an opportunity this was. It was an opportunity to
tell the world that there are individuals with autism who do find love,
who do have sex lives, and experience the ups and downs of a
relationship -- just like any other couple. But as much as I was eager
to share this with the world, I was also nervous. I knew not all the
feedback would be positive, and I understood why. I try hard to tell
people that although not everyone will find love, the possibility and
the concept of autism and sexuality exists, and is very real.
addition, countless individuals and other members of the autism
community have posted blogs, uploaded YouTube videos, and written
articles about the concept of autism and sexuality, in efforts to
continue reaching awareness to the general audience.
fascination and curiosity has no limits when it comes to autism and
sexuality, leading to questions regarding what goes on behind closed
doors. Sometimes, it leads to taunting. A woman from Queens, New York
posted an entry on her blog about flipping through her copy of the March 2009 issue of Glamour on
her bus ride back home, and came across the article about me and my
boyfriend. In reaction, she wrote: "Autistics having sex?!?!? I can't
believe it!! I'd pay to see that!!"
to see? Yes, it's always sad to see ignorance. But I've learned that is
part of the price one pays for exposure, and the best thing you can do
in negative criticism is to ignore it and move on.
think this woman from Queens would be quite disappointed if she ever
did have the chance to witness two autistic people having sex. It's
pretty much like two non-autistic people having sex.
on Feb. 28, 2011 at 10:18 AM