Sex and Asperger’s Syndrome

A satisfying sexual relationship is possible with someone who has Asperger's

A satisfying sexual relationship is possible with someone who has Asperger’s

Although there is much more to be learned, research suggests that people with Asperger’s Syndrome have the same sexual interests and issues as people in the general population (Lawson, 2005; Henault, 2006). The bottom line is that adults with Asperger’s are as interested in sex as everyone else.

But just as sex and intimacy can present major difficulties for neurotypical adults, adding Asperger’s to the mix creates additional complexities. The characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome in most cases affect one’s ability to create intimacy and to enjoy a satisfying sexual relationship.

Intimacy

Intimacy involves sharing emotions and intimate thoughts, as well as hopes, beliefs, physical affection, and sex. While sex is important in a relationship, it is not the only way to create intimacy.

Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome tend to have a single focus, be inflexible, and need routines, all of which can make intimacy and a satisfying sexual relationship difficult. Listening and paying attention to their partners needs is not something that comes easily.

I often suggest to couples who come to me for help that they create a list of activities which each of them want in an intimate relationship, such as sending flowers, saying “I love you” each day, taking walks together, and setting aside time to listen to each other. I then advise both partners to discuss their list with each other and generate a second list of things they can each do to increase the intimacy between them. By taking one item on these lists and focusing on that one for a certain period of time, then a second one when the first is firmly established, couples often can create the conditions of intimacy that were lacking before.

Physical Affection

Tony Atwood, (2008), points out that people with Asperger’s Syndrome often do not understand why it is important for neurotypical people to express love and affection. One reason is that a common characteristic of Asperger’s is extreme sensitivity to touch. When a hug is experienced as an uncomfortable squeeze or touching feels painful, the ability of someone with Asperger’s Syndrome to give and receive physical affection is greatly diminished.

Working with your partner to figure out what kinds of touch can be tolerated is a crucial step in allowing physical affection to develop. Letting your partner know when you need or want to be touched can overcome the difficulty your partner has in recognizing the importance of affection. Understanding that your partner’s discomfort with touch is an outcome of Asperger’s can provide the emotional space that allows affection to eventually develop.

Improving Your Sexual Relationship

Consider the following exercise. Together with your partner make a list of the things that your partner does sexually that you like. Make a second list of things you would like your partner to do or try sexually. Make a third list of things that you do not particularly enjoy sexually. Ask your partner to generate similar lists. Then sit down together and share the items on your lists. Ask each other whether the items makes sense, whether you can agree on any, and how you might go about implementing the things that each of you want and don’t want.

It’s important to be specific about what you hope for and what you don’t like. I know this is often difficult for couples but the more specific you can be the less likely that misunderstandings will develop and/or continue. It’s also important to be sensitive to feeling pressured and to pressure your partner. No one likes the idea that they have to do what someone, especially someone they care about, wants them to do. Nor is it very encouraging to know that not doing what your partner wants will get you in trouble.

Remember that compromise in one’s sexual relationship, just like compromising in other areas, is key to a successful relationship.

Although you can work alone to improve your own sexual responsiveness or sensitivity to your partner, your physical and sexual intimacy benefits most when you can discuss and work them out together. As is the case in other areas of your relationship tolerance, trust, good communication, and commitment will go a long way in achieving the sexual connection and intimacy you both desire.

Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Asperger’s psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience. To ask a question, or schedule an appointment,
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11 responses to “Sex and Asperger’s Syndrome”

  1. Mia says:

    Remember that compromise in one’s sexual relationship, just like compromising in other areas, is key to a successful relationship.

    Don’t you think as an NT partner, I have compromised enough already? It is not helpful to tell someone who is the one always going out of their way to meet the other person’s needs, without their own being met, that they must also now give ground on having basic sexual needs met.

    Where is the advice to the AS person that THEY have to compromise? That THEY have to push beyond their comfort zone for their partner?

    Everyone is so concerned with the AS person, with their happiness, their needs being met. They aren’t children and they aren’t disabled, just a differently functioning brain. Where are the articles telling them to grow up and meet their partner’s needs for once?

  2. Sleepygirl says:

    I have given up trying to work out my marriage with my Aspberger husband. The marriage worked well when I expressed no emotional needs and had no expectations for affection or attention. As the kids grew and I needed more from him, it was definitely a file not found. When I suggested therapists, he was interested to the extent that I found the provider and arranged the appointment based on his convenience. When he discovered his love of athletic excellence which absorbed most of him time and any disposable income we had, I knew my path. I have outlived my usefulness for him, and unless I want to spend the rest of my life feeling dismissed and unimportant, divorce is the only viable option. If one of my kids met an Asperberger who they found appealing I would tell them to run and run fast in the opposite direction.

    • Dr. Kenneth Roberson says:

      Thank you for sharing such personal, intimate details of your situation. I can certainly understand why you were not happy with your husband as well as why you decided to leave. If I had the same experiences you did, I might have made the same decision.

      • Anna says:

        Now 10 months in what i still consider a new relationship but I feel the honeymoon period is over. my man says he loves me but doesn’t need full sexual intercourse as love is enough. Last weekend it came out that during his previous relationship of four years considered living together and he was engaged as thought it would make her feel better over breaking up four times. Engagement lasted six months then they finally broke up. Said he didn’t mention because I previously said I didn’t want to hear details of his past marriage and relationships. I did say this but preferred as not want details e.g. he wanted to tell me previous girlfriend was a fruitcake and nothing ever her fault. He also said they had some really happy times . So obvious he has not got an empathy filter as doesn’t think how I might feel I now Feel very empty & sad. I felt so special in the first few months but now feel taken for granted. Is this what happens after the initial attraction goes and is this what sleepy girl is referring to as he is now behaving more selfishly. Do I run?

  3. Ann says:

    Can you explain why an aspie says that one half of him loves me?

    • Dr. Kenneth Roberson says:

      I’m not sure what he means when he says one-half of him loves you. Does the other half not love you? How has he explained this?

  4. Paulaya says:

    I am so glad I found this website. I have always known that my husband was different but recently realized its Asbergers. He is a very handsome man (for some reason I thought AS and being good looking wasn’t possible). Boy was I wrong! Well…here I am married for 9 years and wondering how I teach him to be intimate and how I take care not to take his rigidity personally. I want my marriage to work. After all I knew there were differences before we got married. It is still tough. I like the idea of a chart. He is good at following up on things I tell him I need like a hug and kiss in the morning ect. He is obsessed with food which drives me crazy at times but other times it can be good. He really does always find the best resturaunts. We may need counseling at some point as it can be draining to be in this relationship. Thanks so much for all this information Dr. Ken!

    • Dr. Kenneth Roberson says:

      Thank you very much for your comments. I appreciate them, and I certainly am glad you found the information helpful.
      My best,
      Ken Roberson

  5. Bob says:

    This is all very interesting. I’ve dated several LL women and each one later in life came to me and apologized and cited having been diagnosed as Aspergers as the reason why they generally denied intimacy for years and then typically had a breakdown of some sort, and would disappear or find someone new out of the blue with no warning and leave me going “What the hell just happened?”

    I also agree with the person above, if you discover your lover is one of these types, and fits the profile. You can’t help them, despite what professionals say. You can only leave and hope they find someone like them, and they usually won’t tell you. Every LL woman I dated that was eventually diagnosed aspergers flat out told me what I wanted to hear, that they liked sex, etc, just couldn’t have it for some reason or another. Then, once diagnosed, they FINALLY were able to be honest with me and basically say “Yeah, I was lying to you, I didn’t want it at all… I just didn’t want you to leave me.”

    • Dr. Kenneth Roberson says:

      Dear Bob, thank you for your comments. I appreciate you taking the time to describe your experiences dating women on the spectrum.

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