Past research suggests more variation in sexual attraction in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) using clinical samples. This study utilised a population representative group of 14/15 year olds from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. Ninety-four adolescents (73 males, 21 females) with ASD and 3454 (1685 males, 1675 females) without self-reported on sexual attraction and past sexual relationships. Females with ASD reported lower rates of heterosexual preference (adjusted odds ratio: 0.14, p < .001), higher rates of bisexuality (adjusted odds ratio: 6.05, p < .001) and uncertainty in attraction (adjusted odds ratio: 10.44, p < .001) compared with non-ASD females. ASD males reported fewer prior boyfriends/girlfriends. Findings confirm female adolescents with ASD have differences in sexual attraction compared with non-ASD females.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publications.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013). Census of population and housing: Socio-economic indexes for areas (SEIFA), Australia. Canberra: ABS.
Auyeung, B., Baron-Cohen, S., Ashwin, E., Knickmeyer, R., Taylor, K., & Hackett, G. (2009). Fetal testosterone and autistic traits. British Journal of Psychology, 100(1), 1–22.
Balthazart, J. (2011). Minireview: hormones and human sexual orientation. Endocrinology, 152(8), 2937–2947.
Beddows, N., & Brooks, R. (2016). Inappropriate sexual behaviour in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder: What education is recommended and why. Early Intervention in Psychiatry, 10(4), 282–289.
Bejerot, S., & Eriksson, J. M. (2014). Sexuality and gender role in autism spectrum disorder: A case-control study. PLoS ONE, 9(1), e87961. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0087961.
Byers, E. S., Nichols, S., & Voyer, S. D. (2013). Challenging stereotypes: Sexual functioning of single adults with high functioning autism spectrum disorder. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 43(11), 2617–2627.
Carver, K., Joyner, K., & Udry, J. R. (2003). National estimates of adolescent romantic relationships. In P. Florsheim (Ed.), Adolescent romantic relations and sexual behavior: Theory, research, and practical implications. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence.
Corona, L. L., Fox, S. A., Christodulu, K. V., & Worlock, J. A. (2016). Providing education on sexuality and relationships to adolescents with autism spectrum disorder and their parents. Sexuality and Disability, 34(2), 199–214.
Davis, E. C., & Friel, L. V. (2001). Adolescent sexuality: Disentangling the effects of family structure and family context. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(3), 669–681.
Dewinter, J., Vermeiren, R., Vanwesenbeeck, I., Lobbestael, J., & Van Nieuwenhuizen, C. (2015). Sexuality in adolescent boys with autism spectrum disorder: Self-reported behaviours and attitudes. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 45(3), 731–741.
Dunn, L., & Dunn, L. (1997). Peabody picture vocabulary test (3rd edn.). Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service.
Gilmour, L., Schalomon, P. M., & Smith, V. (2012). Sexuality in a community based sample of adults with autism spectrum disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6(1), 313–318.
Hannah, L. A., & Stagg, S. D. (2016). Experiences of sex education and sexual awareness in young adults with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 46(12), 3678–3687.
Hellemans, H., Colson, K., Verbraeken, C., Vermeiren, R., & Deboutte, D. (2007). Sexual behavior in high-functioning male adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37(2), 260–269.
Ingudomnukul, E., Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., & Knickmeyer, R. (2007). Elevated rates of testosterone-related disorders in women with autism spectrum conditions. Hormones and Behavior, 51(5), 597–604.
Kar, S. K., Choudhury, A., & Singh, A. P. (2015). Understanding normal development of adolescent sexuality: A bumpy ride. Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences, 8(2), 70–74. doi:10.4103/0974-1208.158594.
Katz-Wise, S. L. (2015). Sexual fluidity in young adult women and men: Associations with sexual orientation and sexual identity development. Psychology & Sexuality, 6(2), 189–208.
Kellaher, D. C. (2015). Sexual behavior and autism spectrum disorders: An update and discussion. Current Psychiatry Reports, 17(4), 1–8. doi:10.1007/s11920-015-0562-4.
Kuo, M. H., Orsmond, G. I., Cohn, E. S., & Coster, W. J. (2013). Friendship characteristics and activity patterns of adolescents with an autism spectrum disorder. Autism: the international journal of research and practice, 17(4), 481–500.
Liu, G., Hariri, S., Bradley, H., Gottlieb, S. L., Leichliter, J. S., & Markowitz, L. E. (2015). Trends and patterns of sexual behaviors among adolescents and adults aged 14 to 59 years, United States. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 42(1), 20–26.
Ousley, O. Y., & Mesibov, G. B. (1991). Sexual attitudes and knowledge of high-functioning adolescents and adults with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 21(4), 471–481.
Pecora, L. A., Mesibov, G. B., & Stokes, M. A. (2016). Sexuality in high-functioning autism: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46(11), 3519–3556. doi:10.1007/s10803-016-2892-4.
Randall, M., Sciberras, E., Brignell, A., Ihsen, E., Efron, D., Dissanayake, C., & Williams, K. (2016). Autism spectrum disorder: Presentation and prevalence in a nationally representative Australian sample. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 50(3), 243–253.
Santelli, J. S., Lowry, R., Brener, N. D., & Robin, L. (2000). The association of sexual behaviors with socioeconomic status, family structure, and race/ethnicity among US adolescents. American Journal of Public Health, 90(10), 1582.
Savin-Williams, R. C., & Ream, G. L. (2007). Prevalence and stability of sexual orientation components during adolescence and young adulthood. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36(3), 385–394.
Shearer, A., Herres, J., Kodish, T., Squitieri, H., James, K., Russon, J., et al. (2016). Differences in mental health symptoms across lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning youth in primary care settings. Journal of Adolescent Health, 59, 38–43.
Soloff, C., Lawrence, D., Misson, S., Johnstone, R., & Slater, J. (2006). Wave 1 weighting and non-response. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Warnell, F., George, B., McConachie, H., Johnson, M., Hardy, R., & Parr, J. (2015). Designing and recruiting to UK autism spectrum disorder research databases: do they include representative children with valid ASD diagnoses? BMJ Open, 5(9), e008625.
Wechsler, D. (2003). Wechsler intelligence scale for children-Fourth Edition (WISC-IV). San Antonio, TX: The Psychological Corporation.
Whitehouse, A. J., Maybery, M. T., Hart, R., Mattes, E., Newnham, J. P., Sloboda, D. M., et al. (2010). Fetal androgen exposure and pragmatic language ability of girls in middle childhood: implications for the extreme male-brain theory of autism. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 35(8), 1259–1264.
This article uses confidential unit record files from the LSAC survey. The LSAC was initiated and funded by the Commonwealth Department of Families, Housing, Community Services, and Indigenous Affairs and was managed by the Australian Institute of Family Studies. The findings and views reported in this article are those of the authors and should not be attributed to either the Commonwealth Department of Families, Housing, Community Services, and Indigenous Affairs, or the Australian Institute of Family Studies. We thank all the families participating in the LSAC study. The authors report no conflicts of interest. The authors alone are responsible for the content and writing of the paper. We wish to thank the William Collie Trust, University of Melbourne, for their support of authors Dr May and Professor Williams. Dr Tamara May wrote the first draft of the manuscript and no honorarium, grant, or other form of payment was given to anyone to produce the manuscript. All authors acknowledge they have contributed significantly to the present manuscript.
TM, KP, KW made a substantial contribution to the study design and conception and interpretation of findings. Dr May completed the data analysis and drafted the paper. All authors revised and critically reviewed the paper and provided approval of the final version to be published. All authors are accountable for all aspects of the work.
About this article
Cite this article
May, T., Pang, K.C. & Williams, K. Brief Report: Sexual Attraction and Relationships in Adolescents with Autism. J Autism Dev Disord 47, 1910–1916 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-017-3092-6
- Adolescent health
- Sexual attraction