There is little research into sexuality among adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), particularly high-functioning individuals living independently in the community. Previous research suggests a relationship between excessive prenatal testosterone and both homosexual and bisexual interests and behaviors as well as ASD (Dörner, 1976; Baron-Cohen, 2002). This relationship is thought to exist because high testosterone levels in utero may masculinize the brain (Baron-Cohen, 2002). The prenatal androgen theory suggests that there would be a higher incidence of same-sex oriented behaviours and attitudes and a correspondingly lower incidence of behaviours and attitudes targeting members of the opposite sex among females with ASD. The reverse finding, i.e. a lower rate of homosexuality and higher rate of heterosexuality would be expected among males.
We examined whether the incidence of homosexuality differs between females and males with ASD. We also examined whether the incidence of homosexuality in subjects with ASD differs from that in the general population.
An online survey composed of standardized scales was used to compare high-functioning adults with ASD and members of the general population with respect to their sexual interests, sexual behaviors, and sexual orientation. Participants were recruited from undergraduate Psychology students, and via websites, autism organizations, and an Asperger’s Syndrome themed blog operated by one of the authors. Univariate ANOVAs were used to compare differences between individuals with ASD and the general population as well as gender differences and interactions of gender and group.
No significant differences were found in number of sexual partners and frequency of sexual behaviors between the ASD group and the general population group. Compared to the control group, a higher degree of asexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality, and a lower degree of heterosexuality was found in the ASD group. Females with ASD showed a significantly lower degree of heterosexuality than males with ASD and the results also suggested a higher degree of homosexuality among females with ASD than in female control subjects.
Unlike lower functioning individuals living in group homes, individuals with ASD living in the community are capable of engaging in sexual behavior and forming romantic relationships, and do so at the same rates as controls. Excessive prenatal testosterone may partially explain the relationship between ASD and increased homosexuality and bisexuality, but it is likely that there are additional biological, social, and environmental factors that account for the lack of difference between male and female ASD subjects with respect to sexual orientation. Sex education for individuals with ASD should address these similarities and differences and hopefully result in increased self-awareness for individuals with ASD and increased understanding for those who live and work with them.
Baron-Cohen, S. (2002). The extreme male brain theory of autism. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 6, 248-254.
Dörner, G. (1976). Hormones and Brain Differentiation. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company.
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