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“Straight Sex is Complicated Enough!”: The Lived Experiences of Autistics Who are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Asexual, or Other Sexual Orientations

Abstract

Autistics are more likely than neurotypicals to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, and other sexual orientations. Autistics and sexual minorities represent populations at high risk for depression, anxiety, and suicidality. Little is known about the experiences of individuals living at this intersection. In this phenomenology, 67 individuals who identified as autistic sexual minorities participated in online interviews to describe the meaning of their experiences. Six themes emerged, including: self-acceptance is a journey; autistic traits complicate self-identification of sexual orientation; social and sensory stressors affect sexual expression; feeling misunderstood and isolated; challenges finding mutually satisfying relationships; and difficulty recognizing and communicating sexual needs. Autistic sexual minorities experience a “double minority” status that complicates identity formation and increases vulnerability in sexual relationships.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank the participants of this study for sharing their experiences with us.

Funding

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

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Authors

Contributions

LL conceptualized the study, collected and analyzed data, and wrote the manuscript. CW, NJ, and EC contributed to all phases of the study including conceptualization, data analysis, and writing the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Laura Foran Lewis.

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The authors have no conflicts of interest to report.

Ethical Approval

Approval was obtained from the ethics committee of the University of Vermont. The procedures used in this study adhere to the tenets of the Declaration of Helsinki.

Informed Consent

An information sheet was provided to all participants, and submission of written interviews implied consent.

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Lewis, L.F., Ward, C., Jarvis, N. et al. “Straight Sex is Complicated Enough!”: The Lived Experiences of Autistics Who are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Asexual, or Other Sexual Orientations. J Autism Dev Disord 51, 2324–2337 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-020-04696-w

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-020-04696-w

Keywords

  • Phenomenology
  • Qualitative
  • LGBTQ + 
  • Sexual relationships
  • Intimacy