Asperger’s And Intimacy. Again, for those new to my Blog, I use the word “Asperger/Aspie” in a fond way with no demeaning label. Intimacy in a relationship is a feeling of being close, emotionally connected and supported. Being able to share a range of thoughts, feelings and experiences that involves both physical and emotional intimacy makes for a content romantic relationship. In my work with neurodiverse couples, it makes all the difference in moving forward when their sex lives are good. Being married to someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has many challenges. But I find with good sex lives, just like couples who aren’t on the Spectrum, makes for good long term results.
Asperger’s And Intimacy
Jennifer and Jerry have been married for 21 years. For the first 10 years Jennifer thought her husband was not showing her the attention she wanted. When they were dating he was shy and she thought it was endearing. He’s a brilliant man but lacked in social graces and fell short when it came to planning romantic outings. When it came to sex she noticed whenever he was interested he acted like a shy teenage boy making jokes to deflect intimacy. His physical approach to her was awkward if not clumsy and when going for her breasts he would grab them in such a way that she found it a turn off. Ok, there’s cute, then there’s “what’s up with that move?”
Sex is a hard topic to talk about whether you’re married to someone on the spectrum or not. In closed family systems members seldom talk about feelings, let alone sex. In neurodiverse relationships, it can be even harder to communicate because of the language difference. Sex is full of nonverbal cues that can be misunderstood. A wide range of emotions to a partner on the spectrum can be challenging as sensory triggers such as touch, smell, taste and sound can be overwhelming.
Sex is important in healthy relationships. Sex doesn’t necessarily have to be intercourse. Lying in bed hugging with or without clothes, kissing, touching, erotic massage and using sex toys are forms of giving and receiving pleasure. Oral sex can be a challenge due to sensory triggers but doesn’t necessarily have to be ruled out.
Maxine Aston (2001) in her study of Asperger’s and sexual intimacy found that fifty percent of Asperger’s (AS) and neurotypical (NT) couples had no sexual activity within their relationship. In fact, “there was no affection or tactile expression whatsoever.”
Tony Attwood notes, “one of the characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome can be emotional and social immaturity.” Rather than experiencing sex as an emotionally compatible act, AS-NT couples frequently experience themselves playing out, by necessity, parent-child roles which kills any chance of sexual arousal.
Is there any hope for couples in which one partner has Asperger’s? Yes, of course. If both partners are motivated to change, then they can have a more satisfying sex life, one that makes each partner feel wanted and accepted. But a satisfying sex life generally starts outside the bedroom. Partners first need to educate themselves about Asperger’s so that they can understand how it is affecting their intimate relationship. The best indicator for a good sex life is being able to communicate. Being able to initiate conversation, share thoughts and feeling, and ask for what you need and want is effective communication.
Sensate focus activities may also be helpful in slowing down both partners so that they can concentrate on what feels good, instead of on performance. Learning to give verbal feedback about sex without creating defensiveness is another valuable skill. Being realistic about what may or may not change in the bedroom is another facet of acceptance of the diagnosis of Asperger’s.
For more information about Asperger’s and sexual intimacy contact me at CouplesCounselorSanDiego.com or call me at (858) 735-1139.