Falling in Love and Living Together? Sexual Attraction and Relationship Status in Adolescents and Adults with ASD.

Saturday, May 13, 2017: 2:46 PM
Yerba Buena 3-6 (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
J. Dewinter1, H. de Graaf2 and S. Begeer3, (1)Child and adolescent psychiatry, GGzE, Eindhoven, NETHERLANDS, (2)Rutgers, Utrecht, Netherlands, (3)VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Sexuality is more and more accepted as a normative part of adolescent development and adult functioning, also in men and women with ASD. The majority of people with ASD without an intellectual impairment reports interest in having a relationship. Notwithstanding that ASD features are assumed to hamper relationship and sexuality development, recent research showed that a major part of people with ASD has experience with a romantic relationship, in contrast to earlier findings. Differences in these relationships compared to the general population remain assumed. Earlier publications suggested that more people with ASD also feel attracted towards people of the same sex or that younger heterosexual men with ASD are more likely to be single.


The aim of this study was to explore sexual attraction and relationship experience in adolescents and adults with ASD.


Participants in the Netherlands Autism Register (n=675, 48.3% male, age 15-80) answered online single questions about their experienced gender, sexual attraction, relationship status and how they experienced this, and whether their partner had ASD. These findings are compared to data of a large sexual health study conducted in the Dutch general population.


About 30% of women with ASD and 10% of men reported some degree of gender non-conformity. Only half of the women with ASD felt only attraction towards men, and 80% of men with ASD towards women. Both experienced gender and sexual attraction were more diverse compared to the general population. About half of the men and women were in a romantic relationship, which is less than peers in the general population. Only a small minority was in a non-heterosexual relationship. Comparable numbers of people lived together with their partner. Of the men, 12% had a partner with (suspected) ASD, compared to a third of the women. Of those in a relationship, the majority evaluated their relationship as satisfactory. In the singles, 30% regretted their lack of a partner.


In this study, a greater variety in gender experience and sexual attraction appeared in the adults with ASD compared to their peers in the general population, especially in women with ASD. About half of the adults with ASD without an intellectual disability reported to be in a romantic, mostly heterosexual, relationship and the majority of them lived together with their partner. The variety in attraction was not reflected in the number of non-heterosexual relationships. Research on the way people with ASD experience and define their gender and sexual attraction is necessary, for example in order to explore how people with ASD come to a self-definition and which factors influence this. Attention to gender- and attraction diversity in sexuality education and support to adolescents and adults with ASD is important.