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.

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.


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:

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.

Aspergic Medic said...

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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...


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...


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 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...


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

shiku said...

Am a 27 year old Aspie..for the past 4 years i have identified as gay and only dated women..but since the beginning i just felt all confused about it..i dont know what i think of the opposite sex..sometimes i get scared of liking the opposite sex coz i dont know what i would do..I never dated much when i was in my teen years and early twenties..but when i discovered i might be gay i was able to commit and have a normal problem is that even when am emotionally connected romantically sexually i dont want to touch girls..or i want but dont know how..then i begin to doubt my sexuality and this gives me depression coz i cant seem to be able to con
nect romantically with the opposite sex..this caused the end of my 21/2 year relationship which i didn want to end..i keep thinking maybe its coz i didnt go through the whole straight stage getting curious about boys..any thoughs/advise on this??

Anonymous said...

I am female Aspie. Altho had masturbated compulsively around age 5-6 did not know sexual info until feelings resurfaced around age 15 & I began compulsively reading romance novels.

During the night, ALL night, I would FANTASIZE, or IMAGINE ONLY in my BRAIN -- (without any touching of my body such as masturbation, etc.) And was able to achieve quite easily complete orgasms (more than one...) At this point, I should probably point out that I would try desperately to stop the whole process because I was raised very strict Catholic

My process of "getting off" was MAGICAL to me because it included much romantic imagery, music... But at the same time it seemed "weird" or "sick" for the following reasons:

the orgasms I reached were achieved only when I imagined what the MAN in the fantasy was experiencing, NOT what I as the WOMAN would be feeling. ALSO -- the orgasms I reached were what I imagined my dad was feeling watching the romantic and sexual activity -- and a male cousin(!) not ME as the FEMALE involved in the scenario/story.

I'm writing on your blog Gavin, because I feel such emptiness now. When I reached the age of about 19, all the intense sexual feelings stopped. I don't know if the novelty of fresh youth hormones everything new first learning about life at the tender age of 15 has worn off forever. Or the harm done when I made myself stop when I was a little girl of age 5 (I did not know what was happening, but I "knew" it was something wrong because I felt so animal-like when doing it) Esp when my mom snuck up on me & smacked me!

While I have been in a healthy loving relationship with a man for many years (I am age 52) -- we cannot share any real physical intimacy. He doesn't pressure me. But I miss the MAGIC of it all. I also need to point out that I was diagnosed 28 years ago with schizoaffective disorder, and OCD. Just wanted to share & see if there are any helpful comments out there. Thank you for your wonderful blog -- the first I've found EVER on this type subject.

I just don't understand what happened??? How can a person have such intense romantic/sexual feelings and then POOF! completely gone forever. I have tried all kinds of methods to get the feelings back like different reading, visual, even porn in desperation. Maybe I am now "asexual"? I have been hospitalized nearly 300 times for my psychiatric problems and also had at least 50- ECT ("electro-shock" treatments) after college. I am currently unable to work or drive. But I am doing extremely well in all other areas now with therapy and medication. I wonder if there is hope. Or maybe I can just be happy with an asexual but loving lifestyle.

Anonymous said...

I am a step mom to a 16 yr old in which his father and I share his 15 yr old sister...He has been caught pulling her top down while she was sleeping and peeking through cracks in doors and recently has been caught trying to take pictures of her under the bathroom door while she got dressed after showering...I have also found very inappropriate messages and videos he is sending to random people on social media...Our daughter is terrified and we have since been out of the house, leaving his father to care for him. I have tried to have conversations with him in regards to this and previous incidents, he doesn't want to talk with me. He has sent videos to young girls, older women and even a guy...his father believes that he's seeking any kind of attention...I believe he's becoming obsessed with his sister...we have not always lived in the home. We have lived with them for 4 question, is it possible that he doesn't understand that they are brother and sister???

Gavin Bollard said...

Anonymous, it's certainly possible that your stepson doesn't see his sister as "technically" a sister and this needs to be worked on. Additionally, there's a bigger problem that his sexually aggressive behaviour is not acceptable to anyone in society.

He needs to understand that there are consequences to his actions and that those consequences could be life-changing. If he does these things to someone else, there's a pretty good chance that he could be jailed, fined or at the very least be given a criminal record which would affect his chances of employment.

It's really a "dad's place" to have that kind of talk and it's best done in a non-threatening environment without everyone else listening in. Perhaps he could go somewhere with his dad for a boys day out which includes some frank talk.

Anonymous said...

I'm a divorced mother of a 15 yr old aspie boy. Lately he has really noticed that he is not quite like the other kids. He wants so badly to fit in, and often tries to copy or mimic others behaviors in order to look like everyone else. The problem is that it is generally the wrong time, wrong place, or wrong person that is is with. He is also becoming increasingly obsessed with girls, sex, having a girlfriend, etc. Just looking for some advice on how to help him in this time. He currently sees a therapist, but she seems to want to focus on his defiant behavior. He plays sports and I have generally always tried to put him with his non-identified peers in hopes that he can start to notice their behavior and adapt. We talk constantly about what he sees, hear, feels in an effort to help him process. But lately, with the girls and sex issues, he is not wanting to confide in me until he is caught doing something he shouldn't.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the article I've been diagnosed with aspergers for 3 years and also my name is Gavin

sheri said...

My daughter is having obsessive thoughts about sexual desires. Not sex, she things making out is sex. But every night she is worried she will have thoughts about naughty things. I tell her its perfectly normal but she is still obsessing. Any help would be appreciated. She is 13 with aspbergers.

Unknown said...

My son is 16, he will be 17 in January. He has never cared for sex or talking about it made him sick to his stomach. He won't wear shorts or go swimming. He wears 3 shirts, regardless of how hot it is. Tonight he had a bad headache and asked me out of the blue if there is teachers who would show or teach kids like him about sex. My jaw dropped, I was caught so off guard. I work in law enforcement and I am trying so hard not to tell him he is freaking crazy for asking me that...I calmly said not that I am aware of but if he wanted me to ask his physiologist if he knew. He snapped for me not to tell anyone. I am worried I want to approach it correctly and not have him be upset but to be aware. Help!!!!

Anonymous said...

I have an aspie 16 year old who has always been very modest about himself. He always wears jeans and has 3 shirts on, no matter how hot it is. He asked me tonight if there was such a thing as a teacher who could show him or teach him how to have sex. I work in law enforcement and it took everything in me to come up with a sensible reply. I told him not that I know of and we could ask his physiologist if he knew. He shut that down immediately but asked if I could him how I breastfeed him when he was little. He hasn't been breastfeed since he was 1. I don't know what to say to that!

Gavin Bollard said...

Hi Anonymous,

You have a 16 year old boy. Talking about sex is going to happen. If he has a dad that he can talk to, then that's probably the easiest route. If not, then you need to be open with him.

Most kids learn all about sex from school. Schools often have sex education classes, which don't go into detail, and of course kids talk about sex in the playground.

Kids with Asperger's syndrome however usually find friendships and social disucssions difficult. As a result, they are often excluded from normal playground conversations.

Most kids with Asperger's would deal with this "gap" by looking at pornography but if you work in law enforcement, the chances are that your restrictions on such material have been more successful than most parents.

The breast feeding question is actually quite a good one - the answer to this is usually, from reading books while you're pregnant, plus a little instruction at the hospital .. and if you're lucky, from pre-natal classes.

It's not something that comes entirely naturally and you have to practice and make a lot of mistakes before you get it right. For your son to choose that as a comparative question is quite clever.

If your son is a reader, you probably should get him a good book or two on sex. It's probably not a bad idea to also get him books on driving and other "adult life-skills" at the same time so the conversation becomes about "growing up" and being an adult, rather than about sex.

You do need to talk to him about sex and in particular about protection as I've noticed that kids today don't have the "aids-fear" that my generation had. Kids today seem to think that protection is only to prevent pregnancy.

If your son is not a reader, and he's reached the right age in your country (usually 16 or 18), you could allow him to watch some pornography. If you have great internet blocking at home, it might be better to get a DVD rather than dismantling the blocking. This has the added advantage of allowing you to watch it first and know exactly what he is seeing.

That way, you can allow him to watch it on his own.

If you do allow pornography, be sure to explain that it's not "real". That people generally won't allow the things that are shown to happen - particularly when they are degrading. Remind him that these are models and actors. They're getting paid and they're using special effects, multiple takes and people with generally better bodies than the general public.

If nothing else, you should at least be reassured that the sex-crime rates in countries with relaxed pornography laws have not increased as rapidly as those in countries with greater restrictions.

It's not the ideal solution but it might be the safest for him.