Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 48, Issue 8, pp 2605–2615 | Cite as

Sexual and Relationship Interest, Knowledge, and Experiences Among Adolescents and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Nancy C. Cheak-ZamoraEmail author
  • Michelle Teti
  • Anna Maurer-Batjer
  • Karen V. O’Connor
  • Jena K. Randolph
Original Paper


Little research exists to describe sexual and romantic relationships among adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) from their perspectives. Sexuality and intimacy are developmentally important and influence health and quality of life for all adolescents and young adults, including those with ASD. This study explored and compared the sex and relationship experiences of 27 adolescents and young adults with ASD (males = 20). Adolescents and young adults participated in semi-structured interviews to explore this topic. Using theme analysis, we uncovered four thematic categories: (1) interest in relationships, (2) ideal partners, (3) realities of adolescent and young adult relationships, and (4) advice about sex and relationships. Although many adolescents and young adults expressed wanting a relationship, few reported having partners. Among those that did, their actual relationships rarely met ideals. Most adolescents and young adults talked with parents and friends but not healthcare providers about sex and relationships. All adolescents and young adults described the need for additional education. Adolescents and young adults express the need for education that covers basic safety and sexual health topics as well as social/relationship skills building and courtship modeling. These findings can inform the design of tailored sexual health intervention. Future research should examine specific issues related to sexuality from the adolescents’ and young adults’ perspectives.


Autism Adolescents/youth Young adults Sexuality Intimacy 



This study was funded by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, through the Autism Research Program, Idea Development Award under Award No. W81XWH-14-1-0604. Opinions, interpretations, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by the Department of Defense. The US Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity, 820 Chandler Street, Fort Detrick, MD 21702-5014 is the awarding and administering acquisition office.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict on interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Health Sciences, School of Health ProfessionsUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Special Education, College of EducationUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA

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