Thursday, March 26, 2009

Teenage Sexuality and Aspergers

Please Note: This post may contain material which could be considered offensive. If you are squemish? Please do not read further.

This topic was suggested by one of my readers and given that it's not only frequently a source of parental concern but can also cause major social issues, I thought it was well worth covering.

The Extremes
Like all aspie traits, the ones described here don't necessarily apply to everyone. People with aspergers are individuals too and there's no reason to expect that any generalisations hold true.

One thing that I've noticed with many aspies that I've come into contact with is that they tend to cling to the extremes of permissiveness more than their neurotypical counterparts.

For example; most NTs learn that nudity isn't socially acceptable from an early age and will generally avoid it. By their mid to late teens however, many NTs push at the boundaries of social acceptance without crossing them in any major way.

In this situation, there are two extremes and you often find aspies clustered at both. On the one hand, there are the shy, prudish aspies who consider it a big deal to unbutton the top button on their shirt, or to wear shorts. At the other end of the scale, there are aspies who think nothing of nudity and aren't concerned who sees them. Surprisingly, there are also a number of confusing individuals who constantly flip between the two extremes.

Causes of Concern
Both types of aspies create social issues with the "prudish" type often being subjected to bullying over their appearance. They also often have problems attending gym/P.E. classes. These aspies often face longer-term life and relationship issues because social rejection in the teenage years can often have lasting consequences. All too often, these people have major issues with dating and with meeting people. In this regard, some of worst problems stem from their conservative dress sense and the fact that they would never set foot in many of the places where social/dating activities are conducted (pubs, clubs, dances etc).

Unsuprisingly though, it's the more "relaxed" types of aspies who tend to get themselves into the worst trouble. There's no mistaking the problems that females who are just a little too forthcoming when talking about adult issues or who flirt inappropriately attract amongst the less controlled members of our society. Male issues tend to be more likely to involve the police, or violence.

Growing Up Permissive
Your aspie's tendencies will generally start to become obvious from an early age, typically around 5 or 6 years. My children for example are sent outside fully clothed to play but frequently when I look out of the window, I see the discarded piles of their clothes on the ground and find them happily jumping around stark-naked on the trampoline where all our neighbours can see them. No amount of correction seems to get the message through.

Even worse, they seem to have an unhealthy fascination with their organs and with "potty talk" when their peers have mostly outgrown this. The big problem with this delay is that it brings us uncomfortably close to puberty. When such frolicking and talk ceases to be innocent and becomes altogether more dangerous.

Like all children, aspies are curious about their bodies and those of others around them. It's fairly normal for children to show themselves to others ("You show me yours and I'll show you mine"). Unfortunately, this is where the sexual and social delays and fascination with the wrong subjects can cause big problems. It is not uncommon for an aspie child to remain focussed on the "show and tell" stage for much longer than their peers.

I remember this stage myself and I remember how my friends had outgrown such things and I eventually asked a child who was several years younger to show and tell with me. It was all innocent but you can imagine the social implications had that other child's parents caught me. I hadn't grown out of that stage by the time I stopped but I had started to fear the punishments that awaited me if I got caught. I'm not keen on negativity as a deterrent but in this case, it was pseudo-fear that did the trick. Certainly I'll be impressing on my children that such behaviour past a certain age will involve the police.

Obsessions
The other issue affecting teenagers with Aspergers is obsession. Aspies are well known for forming fixations on objects, concepts and even people. These obsessions need to be monitored carefully lest they get out of control.

Again, it's not at all uncommon for aspies to develop sex obsessions, even without a partner. Most of these obsessions are perfectly safe behind closed doors but if they are even discussed openly, there could be social problems. Aspies have a tendency to say just a bit too much.

I think that it's much more critical that the "birds and the bees" be discussed with aspies than with NTs as aspies have more naievity and greater scope for trouble. Of course, I'm still not sure what the right age for this discussion should be.

31 comments:

Rachel said...

Great post, Gavin. I hadn't given the issue much thought, as it's been a blessedly long time since adolescence for me.

I've always been at the modest end of the spectrum. Partly, I hate the way close-fitting clothing feels. I just can't wear it. But mostly, I've always felt unsafe in clothing that is too tight or too revealing. I've never known what kind of signals I'd be putting out, and I've never known how to deal with the responses I might get. It's always felt too complicated and scary.

I've always been of the philosophy that people should like me for who I am, not for what I look like or how I'm dressed. As a woman and an Aspie, it's been very empowering to take that approach. My husband thinks I'm beautiful in a snow parka, and I like the way I look when I dress comfortably. That's all that's important to me.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to point out that many aspies are asexual, as in not interested in sex, really. Myself included. I never had any sexual feelings or desires (save for a few weeks after coming off birth control). I'm quite content to be on my own, and have no need for a sexual partner. I guess if obsession are one extreme, this is the other.

Gavin Bollard said...

That's true, many Aspies are actually Asexual and I did cover this a while ago but left it out of this post only because when they're teenagers, aspies usually aren't thinking about sexual orientation. It's baser than that.

You're probably right though and I guess I should have raised it because it sits near the people who won't wear shorts but often results more from a lack of desire than deliberate repression.

Khelben said...

"I'd like to point out that many aspies are asexual, as in not interested in sex"

According to Wikipedia, people who have been classified as asexual actually do have sex, some of them: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asexual

B.t.w. well written article Gavin! (If I saw some grammar errors I would point them out. :))

Rachel said...

In my experience, modesty and asexuality do not sit near each other, and modesty isn't usually about repression. For me, it's always been about safety, privacy, and personal/cultural self-expression. I wear long skirts rather than shorts, but I've never leaned toward the asexual side of the spectrum. It's important not to make any assumptions based on how people choose to dress, especially women.

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Amanda Cannon said...

I'm still looking into it and revising it. The theory is a lot more complicated than just that, and I need to learn a lot more about evolution, genetics, etc. (which won't be hard because I plan to major in biology). I'm looking into whether it was a gene that existed in prehistoric times or if it was a mutation, and if it was, what gene could have mutated and when. I'm also looking into the possibility of primates having autism, because I don't know if it's even possible or not, and if not, why not. I agree with this statement: "I believe that the reason that Aspergers has survived and flourished in recent years owes a lot more to the fact that our current (Western) environment has changed and now is more suitable for the mutation/adaptation than before." I'm trying to figure out how it all started and if the gene was present when humans were subjected to natural selection a lot more than we are, how the gene could have survived. Any help with this would be much appreciated.

Gavin Bollard said...

Amanda,

Have a read of my "Deer Example" in Finding the Boundaries of Aspergers. It explains a bit about my feelings on the Evolutionary approach.

Mara said...

Hello, everyone.
I'm an Aspie's mom, and I am trying to get as much information as I can. Last year, my (then) 13 year old son, who was living with his father, was taken to a psychiatric hospital because of his aggressive behavior. That is when he was diagnosed with Asperger's. That was also then that he started "acting out" sexually. Since then he has been released ans is living with me now. He accepts that he has a sexual compulsion which is very hard for him to control. It embarrasses him, and he feels guilty and hopeless.

Does anyone here know of any type of therapy that has been successful on similar cases? I would appreciate any suggestions.

ethan davidson said...

It seems clear to me that some aspies will wear loose clothes because they fight tight clothes uncomfortable, and others will prefer to wear none at all for the same reason.
I've always been on the more "obsessive"side when it comes to sexuality, from an early age (9), I just wanted it.
But I also knew that "you can't always get what you want" no matter how much you want it. And so, I was able to keep coercive and highly agressive behaviore to the realm of fantasy. Thus, I was often viewed as shy, even uninterested, because I never knew just where the line was. Realy, men are put in a pretty difficult situation of being expected to know when to be assertive and when that behaviore will earn a restraining order. Its no wonder that so many of us ere on one side or the other, too agressive or too shy.

JLG said...

i do go around in undies around the house alot. wondered why. and i had my first crush in year 3. never stopped. boys in primary, girls in secondary, men again in uni probably.
my sexual urge, thoughts, (frequent/doesn't quite stop and sometimes they merge into fantasies)
urmmm TMI.
i've pretty much always been interested in sex, but i cover it up with smancy language and sniggering just to appear 'normal'. only my best friends know that i'm not prudish or conservative.
still i wouldn't give up Asperger's though. makes life interesting if a little scary.

Andrew said...

I'm an aspie and 19. Great article, btw!

I had my first crush at around 4, but the first major one occured when I was 7 or 8. Still, I was pretty asexual until about 15.

What advice do you have for someone who really wants a sex life, but doesnt know how to get one?

Gavin Bollard said...

It's hard to provide advice for someone who simply wants sex for the sake of it.

If you were much older and "running out of time", I'd suggest that "there are probably services available for you" but at 19, you have plenty of time, so just take things slowly.

Just meet people and be friendly, nice etc. and see where it goes. There's not much else you need to do.

The most important things though are to;

1. Not seek sex itself, you'll end up disappointed. A "relationship" is much more satisfying.

2. Don't set your sights too high. Sure, you might want a supermodel but unless you're super-rich and a supermodel yourself, it's probably unattainable. Be satisfied with someone who is at your level.

3. Don't set too many criteria. Every time you add selection criteria to a partner (eg: Only Blonde girls accepted - or only aspie girls) you automatically exclude a whole lot of people. You might be excluding your "perfect partner" on a whim.

Good luck.

Andrew said...

No I'm not just looking for sex for the sake of it. I do want an actual relationship. Sorry if my previous post came off as otherwise

Gavin Bollard said...

That's ok, I was just trying to cover all bases because I'm often asked that question too.

TerryJ2 said...

Gavin and others, great article, great blogsite! Thank you.
I have a 13-yr-old aspie son who definitely has a sexual obsession w/a particular article of clothing. If it didn't harm anyone, I wouldn't worry about it but it belongs to his older sister and she was so freaked out, she moved out of the house. Any advice for how we can redirect him? We are in counseling.

chadd said...

i have aspergers my self, and feel free to talk to me about it. i see some moms and other people looking for people without aspergers for help for people with it. and frankly, not to be disrespecting, someone with out it would know nothing. gavin, this arctical is great. and if you dont have it you hit the nail on the head. exepet for one thing, there is a 3rd extream. i dont know what to call it but its more of a dominance trait. this is what i tend to have. i have an obsesion with being the best, and will kill myself to become it. this aplies to everything. sports, school, dances, ect. and to the evolution person. the gean was there in aciant times. it is the same gean that controls autistic traits. in fact its 100% the invinronment that determans it. in fact, alot of verry sucsessfull people had had the aspergers trait, good and bad. for example, good people, such as ben franklen(sex obsessed by the way) george washington, abraham lincon, and rosevelt. there has been bad people. example, hitler, stalin, mao, and napolian. so in an aciant sociaty, wouldent it be possible that the envoroment is so harsh that all people show the dominance quality of aspergers? and its only "flurishing" because the environment got easyer, so the traits less sucsessfull start to apear?

Gavin Bollard said...

TerryJ2,

Unfortunately for his sister's sake, you'll have to get to the bottom of things. You need to find out for certain whether the fascination is ONLY with the article of clothing or it it's with his sister.

If it's simply with the article, you're best off arranging for it to be "lost". It's likely to be painful with possible tantrums and blame but it's necessary.

Once the item has been lost and complained about, you can set about finding a replacement - a similar article for your son. Since this time, it won't have come from anyone, it should be more "bearable".

Of course, if the obsession is with his sister, then this technique will fail and you'll need to seek medical assistance as such an obsession could become dangerous or damaging over time.

Anonymous said...

My 16 year old son is having difficulties understanding his thaughts and feelings. When he was around 9 I caught him "trying out" my underwear. I was naturally horrified at the time and told him so. However this did not stop him and now he has developed an obsession with swimwear. He wears the swimsuit discreatly under his normal clothes.
He has told me on a couple of occasions that he would rather be female. He is in no way feminine and I wonder if he is troubled by puberty and sexual urges.
He is often of very low mood and hates himself one day, the next day it's all forgotten about and he's talking about girls he likes.
Very confusing for him and me both as I don't know how to support him.

Ti said...

I have a 13 years old Step son, I am not full time with him and from 2 years ago I am seeing him every weekend. He loves me so much and he hugs me so hard and some times he is asking me if I can lay down with him and he really like me to caress him.it is important to mention he is not seeing his mom now for about 4 years.
As he is a teenager, I want to know it is possible he has sexual crush on me? If the answer is yes how should I deal with that?

Gavin Bollard said...

It's entirely possible that your stepson has developed a crush on you.

There's really only one way to deal with such a crush. You need to think about what sorts of things a mother would and wouldn't do with her son.

It's probably ok if he has a crush on you provided that you don't cross the boundaries and keep the relationship paternal.

If your stepson says anything that is too far out of line and you feel you need to respond to it, make it clear that "I'm your mom" but try not to embarrass him or harm your relationship with him unless you're forced to.

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Anonymous said...

I am the mom of an aspie. My 16 year old son was just suspended from school for playing with himself in class. After talking with him, he tells me he has "urges" that he can't control and they outweigh consequences at imes. Is this a problem anyone else has faced???

Dan said...

Dear Gavin

I have Asperges but only my parents know this and I choose to live a normal life. Everyone thinks I'm normal but a bit quirky but I know deep down my issues and have always worked around them.

I was in a healthy 3 year relationship when I stated emailling women. This did not satisy me greatly and I didn't like doing it but it went on and on. I met a woman, even though I didn't really want to becauser I love what was at home for me but I couldn't stop myself.

My partner found the messages, my relationship is over for good, I have people who want to kill me and I am on the brink of suicide.

Why did I do this? I love her and now I'll never see her again. She is 99% of me and my life is over. WHY?

Gavin Bollard said...

@Dan,

There's not a lot you can do right now. If you can't patch the relationship up - and that really depends on what happened and how forgiving your partner is - then you'll need to move on.

The grass never is greener on the other side and there is always temptation.

You have to deny it. That's a matter of honor. The alternative isn't viable long-term.

Obviously you feel sad and suicidal now. That's a normal part of break up. You need to find someone close to talk to - ideally from the same gender so it doesn't become a "rebound". This will help you to get over your dark thoughts.

When you're ready, be strong, try again and stay committed.

Anonymous said...

My 12 year old daughter has mild Asperger's. She told me yesterday that she's bisexual. Is sexual orientation an issue in general for aspies? Is this possibly just a phase/obsession or more likely a long-term issue? She told a friend who was uncomfortable and told an adult who then told me. She has few friends and I'm afraid this revelation may have ruined this and associated friendships. Help!

Gavin Bollard said...

12 is a bit young for a child to fully grasp the implications of such a statement.

Provided that she's not sexually active, it's probably a good thing to just "accept and move on".

It will probably change later on in life. If you argue against it, she'll be less likely to tell you this sort of thing in future.

It's probably more likely that she's simply describing how she relates to people or who she finds attractive.

I guess it's probably more likely to be a phase but there are quite a few bisexual aspies around. It's just to early to be concerned yet.

Anonymous said...

My 15 yo son is aspie and seems to have an obsession with grabbing at girls breasts. we'veg talked with him about how this is gong to get him into serious trouble, taught him about appropriate and inappropriate touch, given consquences (such as no computer)as a result of his touching and we're running out of ideas! Has anyone else faced this and got any good ideas?

James said...

I´m 17, FTM transgender, gay, and with Asperger´s.
I think this article was accurate in many ways, especially with the discussion of teenage sexuality.
I´m on the high end of the libido spectrum, I think, because I´m a porn-watcher and I masturbate frequently and I have highly violent sexual fantasies. I like sleeping naked and walk around naked in the house when I can, but my parents freak out so I don't walk around like that anymore. One could also say that I have a slight obsession with my friend. I talk about my sexual fantasies with her, which I suppose falls into the "say[ing] just a bit too much" category. I sometimes like touching her, nonsexually, but don't touch anyone else and don't like being touched (except in a few occasions when I have asked to be touched in a specific way).

Anonymous said...

I have mild asperges. Sexually I have asexual traits although my orientation is bisexual. Most people who are supposed to be "hot" of either sex do not turn me on. Body parts alone do not turn me on.. when i find a person attractive then I love physical contact but only with a few people. An attractive person will often become my special intetest but it is the whole of them not just their body.

Erika Katsumoto said...

I am an aspie, and at one point, my obsession was sex. Not any desire to have it, but the workings if the human body in anything to do with reproduction. I read an old "human sexuality" textbook cover to cover