Asexual, aromantic, Autistic

Pretty much the only way I resemble the stereotypes about autism is that I’m asexual. This means I don’t experience sexual attraction. I’m also aromantic, which means I don’t experience romantic attraction either. Sexual and romantic attraction are distinct, though I don’t understand the difference between them. I don’t see myself ever having a sexual or romantic relationship, only close friendships, and that’s fine.

Asexual people are diverse. Some of us do experience romantic attraction, with different romantic orientations such as biromantic or heteroromantic, and have romantic relationships, often with sexual people. Some asexual people have sex with their romantic partners, for example for the benefit of their partners, or in order to have children. Other asexual people, like me, are repulsed by sex.

(For more information on asexuality, try the Asexual Visibility and Education Network.)

There is a small amount of evidence that Autistic people are more likely to be asexual than nonautistic people are, although the methods used in these studies are problematic. The possibility of some kind of link between autism and asexuality is fascinating to me, but studies that connect the two can pathologise both. (The summary of this paper seems to imply that asexuality, and also bisexuality and tomboyism, are either testosterone-related medical conditions or abnormalities, and contains the phrase ‘increased male risk to developing autism’.)

(Speaking of stereotypes and pathologising, I have a psychiatrist’s letter that claims my ‘lack of interest in the same things as [my] peers including any sexual relations’ is suggestive of Asperger’s.)

Double disavowal

Most Autistic people do experience sexual attraction, so I can see why sexual Autistic people would want to distance themselves from the stereotypes and emphasise their sexuality. When Lindsey Nebeker asked Autistic self-advocates about myths about Autism and sexuality, many people talked about the myth that we don’t have sexual relationships, and one person said the greatest myth is that we are all asexual (then ignorantly cited the fact that many Autistic people have children as evidence of their sexuality). David Preyde wrote of this myth,

This pernicious myth is making us even more isolated, and making it even harder to find whatever form of human connection we might be looking for.

My people are being cockblocked.

It needs to stop.

But sometimes it feels a bit like they want to distance themselves from me, too.

It’s not just Autistic people who are assumed to all be asexual, but disabled people in general. And this has led to many disabled people disavowing asexuality as they claim that all disabled people are in fact sexual, just like everyone else.

And at the same time, the asexual community disavows disability. Asexuality is often seen as evidence of a disorder, and in countering this, many asexual people emphasise the fact that there is nothing wrong with them.

Asexual people who deny a link between autism and asexuality often pathologise autism at the same time. For example, Lara Landis wrote on Asexual News,

A higher incidence of Asexuality among people with Asperger’s Syndrome is to be expected, An inability to perform relationships is listed as a symptom of for the conditions, according to Medscape.com. An inability to form relationships applies to all relationships, not just sexual ones.

The continued pathologization of Asexuality is not a tenable position.

And a comment on the article complained about too many people coming out as Autistic on an asexuality forum, making the asexuals look bad.

I’m asexual too but these people want nothing to do with me.

This double disavowal creates a horrible situation for people who are both asexual and disabled.

Shared experiences

Autistic and asexual people share many experiences. Each group is thought to make up about 1% of the population, and being a minority leads to us feeling we don’t fit in. Many people’s reactions to learning that they are Autistic or asexual are similar: this explains why I feel so different from everyone else.

Both groups are pathologised and seen to be in need of curing. Both groups are poorly represented in the media. Both identities are inherent to who we are, and influence our relationships.

And the experiences of both the asexual and the Autistic communities are disbelieved and invalidated. I’ve been told that everyone experiences sexual attraction, and even the names of the people I fancy. I’ve been told that everyone in the room noticed the nonverbal communication I didn’t notice, and that sounds that hurt me are harmless.

Autistic people and asexual people have a lot in common, so it’s very sad when members of one group try to disassociate themselves from members of the other.

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12 thoughts on “Asexual, aromantic, Autistic

  1. I’m also autistic and asexual, and often feel the same struggle you do – that because most disabled people are NOT asexual, that when I say I am asexual, I’m actually hurting the disability community by conforming to a stereotype. As if I could choose. I think it *is* important to recognize that people like us exist and that we are not a threat to the rest of the disability community because we happen to be disabled and asexual.

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  2. Some part of the people who have difficulties to evolve and maintain relationships might never get the opportunity to have a sexual relationship and remain asexual without the wish to be so.

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    • It’s true that some people don’t get the sexual and romantic lives they’d like. It’s probably a particular problem for Autistic people because we often struggle with relationships, but I don’t think it’s always caused entirely by autism because people might not meet a potential partner who can see disabled people as attractive and is accepting of an Autistic person’s difficulties and differences.

      But sexual orientation (eg. asexual, gay/homosexual, heterosexual) is determined by who you are sexually attracted to, not by who you actually have sex with. So you could be gay and experience sexual attraction towards people with the same gender, but not have sex with anyone, and you would not become asexual, because you still experience sexual attraction. Or you could be asexual but have sex because you want to get pregnant, and you wouldn’t become a sexual person.

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  3. Some aspies can be more sexual than nts, actually. Some of us are sensory seekers. At least you can have friendships, which I’m incapable of having, although most autistic people do. Autism affects each person differently.
    tombyoism? I’ve always been a tomboy, and have learned self defense and enjoyed it greatly. I was told I think like a man.
    I read in asperger forums several times about aspies saying they’re asexual, and it does seem a larger number than the average population. some aspies are oversensitive, and some are numb to many sensation, and maybe those are the ones who tend to be asexual. just a theory.

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    • Someone told me once that Autistic people are people of extremes, meaning things like having unusually high or low sensory sensitivity. Having a higher than average number of people who are either asexual or highly sexual would fit in with that too.

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  4. @Stimmycat Hi there thanks for putting out a great resource for people interested in ASDs .
    I consider myself to be a rather ‘neuro-typical’ man when it comes to romance and while I’ve never had a relationship, I still feel romantically/sexually attracted to women.
    These past months I grew very fond of a girl who I now begin to suspect, has a lot of Asperger traits.
    We’d been on several dates and I tried early on to be as physical as possible without overstepping any boundaries, and from the third date onwards she was very comfortable with me holding hands with her, taking romantic walks etc. Nevertheless when I confessed my feelings /tried to kiss her she acted extremely perplexed and rejected any further advances.
    She then explained that she was so comfortable with me holding hands with her and being relatively ‘physical’ because she ‘trusted me a lot’ and ‘did not understand that this physicality implied romantic interest’. She also said that she had never had any romantic feelings for a person of any sex, and could not understand when other persons had such feelings for her. She also claimed that I was the first guy to ever have tried to take things “so far” (i.e try to kiss her).
    So I have three questions for you: Does her behaviour seem typical of a person who is a combination of ASD/asexual/aromantic? And if yes, would it make sense for me to ask her if she has ever been diagnosed with ASD or would that be an embarrassing question for her? She did admit that she’d seen the school psychologist at a young age because she had ‘trouble making friends’ but apparently he didn’t find ‘anything wrong with her’. Is it common for ASD people to deny their condition?
    Sorry for my being blunt, I’m going through a bit of an emotional roller-coaster and I have nowhere else to turn to! Thanks for your time 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, thanks for your comment.

      I’m not really sure what you mean by ‘physical’, but not realising when someone is trying to show romantic interest does sound typical for someone on the autism spectrum. Saying she’s never had romantic feelings towards anyone sounds like something an aromantic person might say, but you haven’t said anything about her experiences of sexual attraction so I can’t say whether what she said is typical of an asexual person (it’s possible to be aromantic but still experience sexual attraction).

      I don’t know whether it’s a good idea for you to ask her if she’s autistic – it probably depends on how close you are and how comfortable she is talking about personal stuff with you (and I’m not a very good judge of what’s appropriate in what situation anyway.). I don’t actually know how common it is for Autistic people to deny their condition, but even though we generally tend to be honest it makes sense that someone would lie about it because autism is really stigmatised. But just because the school psychologist didn’t find anything ‘wrong’ with her it doesn’t mean she’s not autistic – when I was a child I was assessed by psychologists who said there was nothing ‘wrong’ with me, and I was diagnosed with Asperger’s when I was 20. Most people are very ignorant about what autistic people can look like, especially in the 90’s when I was a child, and especially about the traits typical for autistic girls and women. It’s common for people to only find out they’re autistic when they’re adults.

      So it’s possible she is on the spectrum but doesn’t know about it. If you do decide to talk to her her about it, maybe instead of asking whether she’s been diagnosed you could ask something like, ‘Have you ever thought you might have some things in common with autistic or Asperger’s people?’. It might help if you could give her some information about autism/Asperger’s that talks about the sort of autistic traits she has and includes information about teens or adults on the spectrum. (This Tumblr post might be helpful for this: http://p-3a-s-life-resources.tumblr.com/post/115347374289/atypical-autism-traits) If she is autistic it could be really helpful for her to know about it, but you should try to be sensitive about it because autism is so stigmatised (though I’m not confident I know the best way to be sensitive about it).

      I hope this helps 🙂 There’s a post here by another Autistic blogger that might be helpful/relevant as well: http://chaoticidealism.livejournal.com/135442.html

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  5. Pingback: Aromanticism in Fiction pt 2 – Q&A | penny stirling's numbathyal zone

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