One morning, you sit down at your computer with a cup of coffee. You open your email, and there’s a new client inquiry waiting for you. Yes! Client work is such a joy, and you wonder if this person will be a fit.
The email is from a man in his mid-thirties. He’s never had sex or been in a relationship. He’s frustrated—he’s got a great career, fulfilling hobbies, and good health—but somehow dating, sex, and relationships just don’t work.
He mentions, almost as an aside, that he’s an Aspie.
Wait, what now?
You go to Google and you learn that an Aspie is an informal term for a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, a previously-used diagnosis now included under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
What would you do, if this were you? Do you know enough about ASD to help him?
What is Autism?
As defined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged.”
When it comes to dating, sex, and relationships, autism presents specific challenges to forming connections. While people of all gender identities can have autism, these challenges especially affect men with ASD due to the social expectation of men as initiators in dating, sex, and relationships.
A quick note here that this essay will look at men with autism who are living independently, as the majority of men with autism who contact you directly will fall within this category. For men with autism who are not living independently, you would likely be contacted by a caregiver or parent who is looking for guidance, and the skills needed to assist are different.
Types of Concerns Presented by ASD Men
For men on the spectrum with milder forms of autism, most sex and relationship challenges are related to social skills and sensory processing.
Social skills concerns can look like:
- Frustration with a lack of a set system to guide behaviour. Many people with ASD must explicitly codify social customs. For example, this could look like creating a checklist of behaviours to use in small talk. When it comes to dating, sex, and relationships, these clients haven’t found a set of rules that work consistently.
Note that the desire for set rules for dating, sex, and relationships makes pickup artistry appealing to this client type and most of these clients will have had some exposure to pickup artists. A great resource to direct these clients to instead is the book Models: Attract Women through Honesty by Mark Manson, which is not classic pickup artistry but is written by someone who understands that subculture well.
- Trouble with body language. People with ASD often have trouble understanding unspoken body language cues, as well as trouble using body language to communicate. There is a high risk of misunderstanding in both directions.
- Conversational give and take. On dates, a client with ASD may talk at length, especially about topics of interest to them, without pausing to include the other person. They have trouble understanding why this creates friction.
- Literal understanding. A client with ASD may take a literal understanding of what their partner shares with them when this was not intended.
- Trouble with conventions. Social conventions can be a struggle for a person with ASD, which can appear odd or concerning to neurotypical people. For example, continuous staring or abruptly leaving a conversation when there is nothing further to be said.
Sensory processing concerns can look like:
- Overstimulation and meltdown. Many people with ASD have trouble filtering sensory information, and certain kinds of sensory inputs without pause can create overwhelm. For example, continuous loud music or having many people brush past in a crowded place. A meltdown from overstimulation can look a lot like a panic attack and is extremely unpleasant for the person experiencing it.
- Stimming. One way that people with ASD cope with sensory processing challenges is by stimming. Stimming, or self-stimulatory behavior, provides a strong sensory focus that can help to filter out overwhelming sensory information. Stimming can look like rocking back and forth, pulling on hair, hand flapping, or repeating words or phrases.
- Touch sensitivities. Many people with ASD experience touch very differently to neurotypical people and they don’t always understand how to communicate this difference. For example, where a neurotypical person may enjoy light, sensual caresses on their body, a person with ASD may find this type of touch extremely unpleasant, and may prefer firm, continuous pressure touch instead.
While the examples above are not exhaustive, they all share one common thread: there is a significant chance of misunderstanding when a man with ASD seeks to form a relationship with a neurotypical person.
How a Sex Coach Can Help ASD Male Clients
One way you can help men with autism as a sex coach is by guiding them to develop a sense of self-awareness about their neurodiversity. This can include building an awareness of the way your client is different from neurotypical people, as well as ways in which they are similar. Many of these clients benefit from coaching on how their neurodiversity interacts with their needs, wants, and desires in sex and relationships, especially sex and relationships with neurotypical people.
Start with their context and lived experience. What challenges have they experienced up to this point? What worked, and what didn’t work?
Next, take the time to make desires explicit. What do they want to experience? How would they like to give and receive pleasure? What result are they hoping to create in their sex and relationship life?
Finally, dive into what is needed to bridge the gap from where they are to where they want to be, paying specific attention to where misunderstandings can arise. Look at the areas of common concern for ASD clients and go into detail.
Touch Can Be a Problem for ASD Men
If your client says they are never able to get a second date, ask them to talk through what they did on the first date. What did they talk about? Was there any touch?
You might discover, for example, that a client was hugged at the start of a first date, and flinched and pulled back because they do not like that type of touch. For them, this was a logical and normal reaction and required no explanation. They may have no idea this reaction could have been misunderstood as a rejection by their date.
Or, your client may share that, after having sex for the first time with a new partner, that partner stopped returning their calls. Through asking pivotal questions, you learn that their partner softly caressed their neck, which caused your client to push them away. You also learn that your client was staring at their partner’s hips for most of the time they were having sex, without also looking at their eyes.
It may surprise them to learn that their reaction to touch could appear to their partner as hurtful, or that staring only at one part of their body could be interpreted as objectifying, when really they pushed away from touch that felt bad and they stared because the movement was mesmerizing and pleasurable to watch.
Making the Implicit Explicit & Celebrating Aspie’s Superpower
As the saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know. As a sex coach, you can empower your ASD clients by helping to make the implicit—that is, all of the unspoken nuance of social and sexual interaction—explicit.
By making the unspoken clear, your clients can understand how different behaviors can be interpreted and come up with strategies for mitigating misunderstanding, advocating for their needs, and opening conversations about how they understand the world as autistic people.
Ultimately, men with autism can be extraordinary lovers and partners. By creating mutual understanding with their partners, explicit communication about wants, needs, and desires can become a superpower in a world where so much is left unsaid in the bedroom.