An awesome question: is there a link between Autism spectrum and BDSM?

Here’s an awesome question:

Has there been any scientific link shown between austim spectral disorders with their various sensory issues, and either an increased tendency towards BDSM/kink or a reduced tendency towards BDSM/kink? Through some minimal googling, I’ve seen individual sex therapists and relationship therapists blog about individual clients, with some suggestions both that these sensory issues can either lead to an aversion to intimate touch or a tendency towards stimulation that others would view as painful. [An example.]{style=“color: #444444;“}


[I also read something suggesting that there was a potential distinction here between pain as pleasure and pleasure from nominally painful pressures/stimuli in people with (what used to be called)Asbergers though I can’t seem to find that article again. This Danish study from the early 90’s of autistic people in group homes ]{style=“color: #444444;“}[seems to suggest that there was some link between perceived self harm and masturbation in autistic individuals but it’s a very small population. I’m mostly curious because it seems to me that the various symptoms of austism spectral disorders could very easily compete with each other when it came to sexual enjoyment and I might expect a very bimodal distribution of either enjoyment or aversion to what I’m going to call high pressure touch, especially on the “higher functioning” side of the spectrum. Thanks!]{style=“color: #444444;“}

 

The actual answer is I have no idea, and I want to start by saying that if there’s anyone who knows anything about this, please please please comment with links!

Basically all I can do is show you some results I know about and we can think together about what it might mean.

Around 17% of women on the spectrum identify as asexual, compared with 1% of the overall population. Another survey of “high functioning [ individuals with ASD living in the community” also found higher rates of asexuality, but also found that the men and women on the spectrum were not different from the comparison group in ]{style=“color: #2e2e2e;“}[breadth and strength of sexual behaviors or sexual vocabulary. That study also found some indication that women on spectrum were more likely to identify as something other than straight, which is interesting because this study of high functioning young men on the spectrum, living in a group home, also found higher rates of non-straight orientation and also of paraphilia. ]{style=“color: #2e2e2e;“}

So yeah. There seems to be, as you say, a stronger bimodal distribution of sexualities. I don’t know that we can call it “pleasure” versus “aversion.” Asexuality, for example, varies a lot and may or may not include sexual aversion; sometimes it’s just zero interest in sex, with no particular interest in avoiding it. Paraphilias, too, are not necessarily about more pleasure, they’re just a more specific pleasure, which, to my not-well-informed mind suggests a similar kind of intense specificity of interest that comes with nonsexual domains of the Autism spectrum.

I don’t know anything about the nature of the sensory issues that go with Autism spectrum disorders, and it does seem to me, just intuitively, that there could be a link between the sensory issues – which seem to vary greatly, in terms of both degree of difference and sensory modality affected – and sexual development. But I have no idea what the link might be.

Anyway, that’s really the best I can do in an hour. This is the question I’ve known the least about of all the questions I’ve been asked during the Sextravaganza!

If anyone reading this knows more – or knows someone who knows more, please spread the word so we can learn!

Pretty please!