26 Mar, 18
Sex and Autism
How to sexually please and respect your autistic partner.
By Emmeline Peaches
26 March – 2 April marks World Autism Awareness Week: Where people all over the world get together to discuss autism, help raise awareness about autism, and generally create an open, informative, non-judgemental dialogue about all things autism.
Here at Dusk we strongly believe in raising awareness for autism and in creating meaningful discussion around the condition, especially when it comes to the more ‘adult’ elements of life. After all, it is thought that autism affects more than 1 in 100 people in the Western world, so it’s time we spoke about it in adult spheres, starting right now!
What Is Autism?
Autism is a developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to others, in addition to how they experience the world around them.
Someone with autism literally sees, hears, and feels the world differently to other people. The processes involved in translating their experiences in life is atypical, creating communication barriers and potentially leading to distress.
Autism is a spectrum condition, which means that it can affect different people in different ways, and is lifelong. Autism can also be accompanied with other conditions or with learning disabilities, which can aid to the frustration for some autistic individuals.
While some people still show an extreme (and condemnable) level of prejudice towards those with autism, it should be noted that, in essence, we all have our own way of seeing and perceiving the world. Just because an autistic individual’s way is not the norm doesn’t mean that it should be discredited and, given the right level of understanding, space, and respect, many autistic people can happily navigate the hurly burly of daily life. Support is key.
Autism and Relationships
Which brings us on to the million dollar question: What are sex and relationships like for people with autism? How are they best approached and what (if anything) can a non-autistic individual do to support their partner/s?
Firstly, it’s important to note that if you’re interested in an autistic individual (or individuals), you have a mutual level of attraction and interest in each other, and you’re aware of (or have just found out about) their condition, then autism should never be a determining factor in your decision to interact emotionally or sexually. Autism does not define that person – it is part of how they communicate and behave but it is not the entirety of their personality.
If you’ve met someone, like them, and you get along then your knowing about their condition is kind of an aside to those facts.
That being said, we do recommend having a certain degree of consideration and understanding of your partner’s autism and where they fall on the spectrum.
The best way to do this? Ask them!
Autism varies so much on the spectrum that you partner/s will be the best person to convey how they operate in the world, what patterns they like to keep strongly in place, and how best to interact with them in a romantic way (or otherwise). Listen, take it all in and respect their boundaries, even if you don’t understand them. Remember: We don’t always need to understand each other in order to respect each other.
Sex and Autism
Sex, in general, is oversimplified in modern society. The assumption that there is one standard way to have and enjoy sex is pretty much bull and you should pretty much default to the idea that everyone has their own ‘sexual manual’, as it were, and simply ask sexual partners what they like and dislike before engaging in sexual acts.
With an autistic individual communication signals might need to be clearer or be conveyed in a very precise manner in order to help facilitate a pleasurable experience. Ask what your partner likes and go from there, it’s the safe (and respectful) way to achieving any good sexual communication.
It’s also important to remember that autism can be highly sensory as well as communicative. The way an autistic person perceives their body during sex may be extremely intense and it’s important that you set clear boundaries and understand where (or what) their key sensitivities may be.
This isn’t to say that these questions are being done for purely safety and prevention. Far from it! Asking these questions might allow you both/all to play on heightened sensory experiences, or to create a unique form of sexual communication where non-conventional methods might not be possible.
That being said, if your partner says stop at any point then stop immediately and practice the appropriate care tactics for the moment. This could be hugging, soothing words, etc. or your partner/s might need space, a comfort object, or something similar. Make sure you know what to do in such cases in advance so that neither of you freak out in the moment.
Fighting A Stigma
Non-conventional relationship dynamics and sex for those with disabilities are far too easily swept under the rug by mainstream media. The assumption seems to be that is a person is in any way atypical then they are somehow not deserving or ‘complete’ enough to live adult life to the fullest. But we say that such as assumption is infantilizing and insulting.
Sex for autistic individuals, as with all individuals, can be a powerful and deeply intimate act. Relationships can be the foundation for helping such individuals realize and own their own autonomy and self-value in the world.
Never act like this is otherwise and always give each other the space and support to facilitate this sense of emotional and bodily empowerment. We believe it is vital and will always champion these values for all individuals.
But don’t just take our word for it: Get involved in World Autism Week. Look up articles relating to sex, gender, and autism and create your own informed opinion about the topic. Knowledge is power and, more importantly, allows us to connect with people who may feel otherwise isolated in a world they too frequently get denied access from. Don’t let this happen.
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