Autistic People Share What They Wish Neurotypical People Understood About Their Sex Lives And Relationships

    "Don't assume that because you know one autistic person, you automatically know what another autistic person is like."

    Even though there are more than 5.4 million (or 1 in 45) adults living with autism spectrum disorder in the US, according to a 2020 report in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, most neurotypical people don't quite fully understand it.

    Autistic people shared on Reddit a few weeks ago what autism is really like, and it is clear that there is still much to learn when it comes to relationships, intimacy, and dating.

    A couple looking out the window holding each other

    So we asked the BuzzFeed Community to share what autistic people want neurotypical people to know about dating and intimacy (and what they want them to stop assuming). We gathered a few answers for you to read below.

    1. "Conflict overwhelms me. When I shut down or walk away in the middle of a fight, it's not because I don't care or that I'm avoiding talking about it; it's because I'm in sensory overload and my brain cannot process. If you give me a little while to go sit by myself, I will be able to compose my thoughts and have a conversation with you. But raising your voice or getting mad at me is never going to get you your desired results."


    2. "If you flirt with me, I won't figure out that's what's going on until like three months later when I'm washing my hair and replaying the conversation over and over in my head. If you are interested in me, just tell me straight up."


    3. "I really wish people would try to be just a bit more understanding of our condition. I tend to be a bit too much, as I'm unable to notice if I'm annoying the other person or being too clingy, intrusive, or things like that. But most times, I'm just doing my best to give the other person attention and a way to get to know me. When I try to reduce that, I end up looking cold, rude, and uncaring. If people would talk and tell me their feelings or that I'm being too much or too little, I could adapt and find a better way to interact with them."

    "I'm usually extremely closed off due to everything that's happened to me, but when I feel safe, I talk a lot and many people feel overwhelmed, but instead of just letting me know that I'm being too much, they run away or disappear. That gives me a feeling of inadequacy like I'm not supposed to be close to people and should just be forever alone." 


    A man holding a smartphone with coffee cup on wooden table in cafe

    4. "Having special interests has ruined relationships for me on multiple occasions. I’ve had partners who felt I cared more about my special interest than about them, when, really, I was just excited to share it with them. They felt that because I talked about it so often, I was prioritizing the interest over them."

    "The reality is that I felt comfortable enough with them to info-dump when I was too self-conscious to get excited about it in front of other people."


    5. "I feel no romantic or sexual urges toward anyone; I never have and never will. I do not like people and am perfectly fine with that. I don’t need to be fixed."


    6. "I think people assume that you have to invent a whole new type of love for autistic people, when you just have to share your love differently. Asking about boundaries, communication methods, and perspectives are still priorities in relationships with autistic people."

    "Your autistic significant other will still have limits and quirks; they may just be more specific or different than neurotypicals. Be respectful and caring, because we're people like you, not aliens."


    7. "Our food limitations are real. There are textures and flavors that we just can't handle. When we tell you what and where we are willing/able to eat, please believe us. Yes, sometimes we eat the same five things over and over again, but it's what works for us."

    "We do not expect you to eat the same five things with us — so understand that sometimes that means we'll be eating different things." 


    A person holding a bowl with a Thai dish inside called "Pak Krapao Moo"

    8. "I was constantly being told as a child or teen that my opinions were wrong or didn’t count, especially when I said when things were too loud or too challenging, because it didn’t make sense to those who were neurotypical. I was a 'drama queen' or 'I needed to grow up.' It ended with me turning into someone who was incredibly compliant and didn’t understand boundaries or know when to say no, which was a recipe for disaster when I began to explore life, relationships, and sex. Just because I experience the world differently from you doesn’t invalidate my opinion."


    9. "Just be there for us. Accept us, love us, and that's enough."


    10. "I may come across as frigid or maybe even uninterested in anything physical with you, but I'm actually a very sexual person due to hypersensitivity. The problem is that men always want all the physical stuff to happen before they get to know you. I'm sensitive. I feel the physical more acutely even if it's just a hug or a touch on the arm, and it feels invasive and overwhelms me when I'm not comfortable with someone."

    "Can I have maybe more than a week to get to know you and get comfortable around you before you try to climb me? Maybe try to seduce my mind before going for my body. That would be great, thanks!" 


    11. "I don't mean to come off as clingy. I've had so many people leave because I'll send 10 messages at once and they don't understand that that's how I communicate. And sometimes I overshare, while other times, I have no idea how to express my emotions."


    A woman looking at her cellphone

    12. "These are the thoughts you have on your first date with someone when you have autism: 'What is socially acceptable to wear or talk about on the first date?' 'Am I talking too much, not enough, or too much on one subject?' 'Am I making eye contact?' 'What if X, Y, Z happens?' 'What are my three backup plans for every scenario that enters my mind?' 'I hope I didn't screw this up.' 'What if he thinks there's something wrong with me or that I'm weird?' Dating is hard enough. Dating when you have autism is even harder."


    13. "Do not assume that because you know one autistic person, you automatically know what another autistic person is like. If you know one autistic person, you know one autistic person. Take the time to get to know someone's character, personality, likes and dislikes, etc., instead of making assumptions based on stereotypes."

    "Developing a close, romantic relationship with an autistic person may require more effort in communication but can be more than worth it. My husband of 22 years thinks it was worth the effort. : )" 


    14. "I don't want to be 'fixed.' Being in a relationship does not give you the right to tell me what I should do differently or how I should behave. I am who I am. And while I want you to help me grow and become the best version of myself, my autism is not a barrier in our relationship — it's just part of who I am."

    "PS: I'm incredibly lucky to be with a guy who gets me and has never tried to 'fix' me." 


    15. "Some of us are asexual, but some of us aren't. Just like neurotypicals, it just depends on the person as to whether or not we enjoy sex."


    A couple in bed together holding each other

    16. "Neurotypicals tend to think that, when you're autistic, you're incapable of grasping the concept of consent. As a result, when it comes to sex, autistic people are depicted as either cluelessly naive; easy-to-deceive prudes; or disrespectful, out-of-control sluts. In my experience, autistic people highly prioritized consent more than any neurotypical person, even before the #MeToo movement started."


    17. "We love just the same as you. We love hard, we fall deep, and we have preferences, just like you all."


    18. "I'm autistic and asexual, but in any relationship or friendship, I may say the 'wrong' thing — but please accept my apology and explain to me why what I said was inappropriate. I've lost dozens of friends because I say the wrong thing, but people just assume we know it's wrong and then fall out with us because of it. Just explain; communication is everything."


    Two people sitting down and holding each other's hand

    19. "We desperately want to be loved! We don't want to be seen as someone to 'take care of' like a child. Most high-functioning autistic adults can do the same things as neurotypical people, but we might need to be shown how to do something if we never been exposed to it."

    "Also, don't embarrass us in public if we make a social mistake. If we have a meltdown in public, try to be understanding and help us through it. We're not giving you a hard time; we're having a hard time!! If we mispronounce a word, don't interrupt us to correct it. Same thing if we use the wrong word in a sentence — it's a little bit like being around a stroke victim. Knowing the word you want to use and accidentally saying the wrong word or calling an object the wrong word sometimes happens if we're excited or agitated. Plus, sometimes we can't remember the correct word and may point to the object and call it a 'thingy' or even by the wrong name. I've called the garbage pail a 'vacuum' many times when I'm agitated or overly excited, and English is my first language.

    "Sometimes I like to make silly noises or sounds. Sometimes I like the repetition of a part of my body moving. Sometimes banging my head comforts me. If people are too silent around me, I think they're mad at me, since I can't read their body language." 


    20. "It takes me a while to process my own feelings, so when we talk about emotions or emotional situations, I'll need time to wrap my head around it before coming up with a well-thought-out response."

    "So if I say something shallow or insensitive, it's not because I don't care. I'll come up with an appropriate (and often articulate) response when I've given it the brain space it deserves."


    Someone writing in their journal with socks on

    21. "I wish they understood when we're not playing games! We just genuinely don't get cues. If you want me to know something, tell me. If you're feeling something, tell me. If you want a specific gift at your birthday, tell me. I will never, ever guess, and we'll both be frustrated."


    22. "It can sometimes feel impossible having autism. I wish more people understood that it’s not just about the social stuff — the bigger issue is that we have to block out most of our surroundings and automate as much as we can just to exist in any space at any moment. All sounds and pictures blur together. We actually stop being able to understand. It’s scary. It feels like Christmas morning inside a haunted house 24/7. I’m stuck here. My adult life revolves around coping and trying to find relief. That’s autism."

    "I, and those like me, 100% understand people, ourselves, and how the world works. We are very much aware. We just don’t share because, in real time, our nervous systems are betraying us. We have to block out most of the outside world and limit our interactions. It’s hard. We are trying to live despite the worst odds. Dating is mixed into all of this. It’s the cosmic joke on top! I rarely do it, but I keep myself open, hoping that one day someone will see me, feel me, and make space for me. I may be atypical, but my need to be heard, seen, and valued is the same." 


    Note: Some responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.