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Romantic Intimacy in Autism: A Qualitative Analysis

Abstract

Although autistic people have difficulties with social-emotional reciprocity, most still desire intimate romantic relationships. This study sought to identify enablers and barriers to emotional and physical intimacy for Autistic (n = 31) and non-autistic (n = 26) individuals. All participants completed an online survey including demographic information, the Autism Spectrum Quotient and questions on intimacy which were subject to thematic analysis. Enablers of intimacy for both groups included communication, sharing and similarity, respect and safety for self and other, and working on the relationship. Barriers for both groups included intra- and interpersonal conflicts; autistic people specifically highlighted uncertainty about relationships and communication. These findings suggest autistic and non-autistic people have similar notions of intimacy, yet have different challenges in experiencing it.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Kieran Rose for his feedback on early stages of the study, as well as Phoebe Newman and Karin Dicander for their insights during data analysis.

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GS undertook the qualitative research study and analyses, and prepared the manuscript. MH and MAS significantly contributed to the design of the research study, oversaw the collection of data and significantly contributed to the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Mark A. Stokes.

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Sala, G., Hooley, M. & Stokes, M.A. Romantic Intimacy in Autism: A Qualitative Analysis. J Autism Dev Disord 50, 4133–4147 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-020-04377-8

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Keywords

  • Autism
  • Intimacy
  • Relationships
  • Sexuality
  • Australia