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The Sexual Profile of Adults with High Functioning Autism and Asperger's Syndrome

Saturday, 4 May 2013: 09:00-13:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)



There is remarkably little research and clinical knowledge on the sexual understanding and profile of adults with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS). The Derogatis Sexual Functioning Inventory (DSFI; Derogatis and Melisaratos, 1982) measures eleven aspects of sexual knowledge and behavior and has norms based on the general population. One hundred thirty-one subjects living in Canada, Australia, France, Denmark and the United States completed the questionnaire. The DSFI examines a range of aspects related to sexuality including knowledge and experience, desire, attitudes, affect, role, fantasies, body image and general sexual satisfaction. It provides a comprehensive assessment of behavior and attitudes relevant to sexuality. The Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ Test; Baron-Cohen et al. 2001) was used to measure the extent of autistic traits in adults of normal intelligence, as a complementary diagnostic. 


Exploring the sexual universe of individuals with Asperger's Syndrome cannot be accomplished without encountering a number of difficulties.  Among these, their lack of socio-sexual skills which serves to increase the taboos that they hold and which also contributes to the biased view that others have of them.  The purpose of the present study was to address the following research question:  "Do individuals diagnosed with AS present a sexual profile distinct from the general population"? 


This self-report measure is subdivided into 11 subscales (knowledge, experience, desire, attitudes, symptoms, affect, gender identity, fantasy, body image, and general sexual satisfaction).  In order to establish the sexual profile of individuals with AS, scores and standard deviations obtained on each subscale were compared to those obtained by men and women in the general population.  Some subscales of the DSFI are drawn from the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI) (Derogatis, 1975, in Derogatis & Melisaratos, 1978), which is a measure of psychopathology.


The results suggest that individuals with AS have levels of sexual interest and drive comparable to those of the general population.  On the other hand, the communication difficulties that they experience combined with their lack of social skills serves to increase the likelihood that symptoms of depression and inappropriate socio-sexual behaviours will appear. 


Individuals with AS need understanding and support from their partner, family, friends and relationship counselling agencies. The support can be in attitude and adapted services. The remedial programs on social cognition, particularly in the areas of friendship skills and empathy that begin in early childhood, continue as the person matures to include information and guidance on puberty, dating, sexual knowledge and identity and intimacy. The goal is to provide greater knowledge and positive experiences to contribute to better decision making and self-esteem. The programs must accommodate the person’s circumstances and the cognitive profile associated with AS. The first author has developed a socio-sexual program for adolescents and adults with AS (Henault, 2005).

In conclusion, a distinct pattern has been detected with adults who have AS and high functioning autism that warrants further empirical examination and the development of educational and counselling programs based on the unusual profile of sexual knowledge and behaviour.

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