Characterizing the Sexuality and Sexual Experiences of Autistic Women

Panel Presentation
Saturday, May 4, 2019: 1:55 PM
Room: 516ABC (Palais des congres de Montreal)
M. A. Stokes1, L. Pecora2 and G. Mesibov3, (1)Deakin University, Burwood, Australia, (2)School of Psychology, Deakin University, Burwood, VIC, Australia, (3)University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Background: There is limited understanding of the sexuality and sexual experiences of autistic women. While preliminary insights have been drawn from few anecdotal and qualitative reports, findings have begun to identify a profile marked by increased sexual risks and vulnerabilities. These initial observations require further exploration via quantitative means.

Objectives: This study aimed to expand upon initial understandings of the sexuality of autistic women to examine the prevalence and nature of sexual functioning and experiences for individuals in this group.

Methods: A total of 459 autistic (N=232) and typically developing (N=227) adults completed the SBS-III online. Self-reported levels of sexual interests, behaviours, and negative experiences of 135 autistic women (M=26.2 years, SD=8.7) were compared between autistic males (N= 96 [M=24.2 years, SD=7.4]) and TD females (N=161 [M=22.0 years, SD=4.6]).

Results: Despite reporting less interest in sex (p<.05), compared to autistic males, proportionally more autistic females reported having had sexual experiences (p<.05). Autistic females also reported more instances of negative sexual experiences, including the engagement in sexual behaviours that were later regretted (p<.001), unwanted (p<.001), or being the victim of unwanted sexual advances by others (p<.001) than male counterparts. Age trends were also observed, where reported instances of negative sexual experiences increased with age in the TD group, yet decreased in the autistic sample from 41 years.

Conclusions: Results indicate that due to a mismatch between low levels of sexual interest, yet increased engagement in sexual behaviours, autistic women are at greater risk of being subject to negative sexual experiences including victimisation and abuse. These results highlight the need for further research to identify the factors leading to these increased vulnerabilities. Additionally, these findings affirm the growing need to deploy gender specific programs that educate and support autistic women to reduce these risks and facilitate a healthy sexual life.