‘I’m just not interested!’Asexuality, Autistic identity and stereotypes

I shared a meme on Facebook the other day which generated some discussion and controversy. The meme listed a number of attributes which are often stereotypes to describe Autistic people. The meme interested me because two of the stereotypes were actually true for me – that apparently Autistic people don’t drive and also that Autistic people are asexual. Let’s put this in context…

Sexuality and disability is a loaded subject. It shouldn’t be of course but sadly it is. Up until quite recently, the prevailing view was that people with disability are not expected to have sex and if they do, heaven forbid that anyone should mention it. According to many people – and unfortunately quite a large number of people – those with physical disability, neurological or intellectual differences or metal illness either do not or should not have sex. It would seem that sex is only for able bodied, neurotypical, good looking, thin, young people. In recent years, many disability and Autism advocates and activists have challenged this view. Many Autistic people do have sex and enjoy it. They have relationships with others and have all the wonderful range of different sexualities and diverse gender identities that exist. A right to be seen as a sexual being is a fundamental right,. Seeing all Autistic people as default asexual is disempowering and invalidating (and wrong). It plays into that view that we are perennial children. We are moving into a world where Autistic people can express their sexuality, The is A Really Good Thing. However, there is a snag.

Many Autistic people are in fact asexual. I am one of them. It is not that we have been brainwashed into thinking we should have or enjoy sex. It is simply that we are asexual. For me, I find sex repulsive and invasive. That is the ‘asexual’ bit. I also have absolutely no desire to be in any kind of intimate partner relationship. This is known as being a-romantic. Asexuality has all sorts of different variations. One can be asexual and homo-romantic (meaning the person does not want physical intimacy but is attracted to the same gender in an emotional way. So an asexual homo-romantic woman would seek a platonic (i.e. no sex) relationship with another woman. They would be partners but would not have sex.) Asexuality is often seen as being part of the Queer spectrum. I consider myself Queer as an asexual woman and I identify as a non-binary gender to some degree (that’s another blog post though!)

Like many people with divergent sexualities and gender identities, it took me many years to realise I was asexual. I was never interested in a relationship with a man and had experienced sexual abuse from men so thought that was why I found intimacy with men repulsive. I decided I must be lesbian because there were three sexualities on offer as far as I knew – gay, straight or bi. I spent years in asexual relationships but sort of by default. The partners I chose had mostly also experienced sexual violence and abuse. The difference between them and i was that sex for them brought up trauma, It didn’t for me – I just had absolutely no interest in it and found even the thought of kissing disgusting.

As time went on I realised I had been single for a long time. I read a news article about a man who had tragically killed women in a mass shooting overseas because he had been reluctantly celibate for some years. I reflected that I had been celibate for years but that I felt no sense of frustration or desperation for sex or a partner. I must admit I was quite relieved that I wasn’t all frustrated and angry at my lack of a partner but I wondered if there were other people like me who really didn’t care about his love, romance and sex thing which the rest of the world seemed in the grip of but which made no sense to me.

When I started my journey as an Autistic self-advocate I met an Autistic  friend who was very proud of her asexual identity. We got talking and I thought maybe I was asexual too.

 

There is a challenge for asexual Autistic though. I will return to the meme I mentioned at the start of this post. Asexuality is a stereotypical assumption of Autistic people he’d by vast numbers of non-autistic people and apparently a lot of the media too. Sexual Autistic people have spent years fighting to get their right to be seen as sexual beings accepted in mainstream society. Then along comes asexual Jeanette and her disinterested mates. Sometimes I think some people think I am ‘letting the side down’ by actually living an unhelpful stereotype. There really isn’t much I can do about this. We human beings have a tendency to simplify situations. The easy answer is often the one that gets accepted. But this is not an easy answer. I  – and my asexual Autistic peers – can be seen as unintentionally  betraying the good work others have done to dispel the myth around  Autistic people and sex.

The problem is not people validating the stereotype by their asexuality (or whatever else). The issue is the fact there is a stereotype in the first place. Assumptions and stereotypes come from somewhere  – usually a fairly vague observation of common characteristics from people starting from place of bias. Once they become a stereotype they also become unhelpful and prescriptive.  Autistic people are ALL sexualities. Challenging those unhelpful assumptions is the best thing we can do. Once people beyond the Autism community understand that we are all the different sexualities and genders that exist – including asexual – that will be a win.

[And just a couple of points about my asexuality: it is not because I ‘haven’t met the right man/woman’, because of my medication or because I am somehow childlike. And if you think it is due to farm chemicals or similar, my brother grew up on the same farm and he has three kids. It is just how I am. Like Autism, it is not a terrible thing or a deficit.

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5 thoughts on “‘I’m just not interested!’Asexuality, Autistic identity and stereotypes

  1. I’m asexual and don’t drive either lol but I know plenty of autistics who can, do and love driving and having sex 😉 I’m also married with three kids. I don’t like having sex and stuff but I will do it for my partner. We’re all different and I guess that’s one of the problems with stereotypes, they don’t account for the differences.

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  2. The thing I love about your writing, other than your clear articulation, is that you trace your thinking about an idea. You traced your sexuality and your emerging awareness as you experienced more ways of being. I can see how you developed into self acceptance of your sexuality.

    It still amazes me how stereotypes propogate asexuality and a lack of sexual currency for disabled folk, yet we are the targetted range for sexual abuse. Like you, my life from 3yo til 2 years ago has been a long tale of being prey for sexual predators. Simply because I have social and emotional difficulties. I am paranoid about my young men being prey too.

    You have opened up, as usual, a space for me to state who I am AND be ok with it. I didn’t know I could be who I am without being labelled weird. I’m still not really sure what there is that is weird about being asexual and preferring male company.

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  3. That Keight,
    The prevalence of sexual violence perpetrated against Autistic people is horrendous. I think we need be teaching kids self protection from a very early age. Of course it would be better if people didn’t abuse trusting kids in the first place but I’m not sure how to address that.

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  4. It is incredibly hard to explain the nuances of intent to my youngest. He needs explicit, exact explanations. I cannot give every single instance of what ‘sexual predation’ might be. I try to explain what to keep an eye out for, but hampered ability to read others makes it difficult. In the meantime, all we can do is our best….and have faith.

    P.S. I’m ‘owning’ my diagnosis, so I shall use my real name. I’m tired of hiding and masking.

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  5. i dont drive, but im hypersexual. im not a sex addict– i have the drive of one, but i really dont like sex outside of relationships. (i dont think its morally awful, but i would hate the whole thing myself. ive never been truly happy with the idea, and ive generally avoided it.)

    i wouldnt mention it but i dont want anyone to think im not sexual because im nd, or that asexuality is a given– not that i think anyone is trying to imply that– i dont want it misconstrued from the outside.

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