When I was first diagnosed with autism, there were very few resources concerning how to navigate the autistic experience for parents and autistic people. When I received my diagnosis at the age of 4, my parents found that resources for them, as the parents of an autistic child, were few and far between. As time has passed, as awareness has spread and as care—providing institutions have realized that the autistic population is one that needs significant support, resources for autistic children have become more widely available. Every day, more educators, doctors and others who work with autistic children are learning how to better provide for the autistic people they work with. All of this is good. A lot of progress has been made on improving the lives of autistic people in my lifetime, and while there is still a lot of work that needs to be done, this progress is not to be taken lightly.

However—and this is a big “however”—while the resources for autistic children have steadily increased, the resources for autistic teens and adults have stagnated. Work on autism and work for autistic people is almost exclusively focused on services and resources for children. Autism, whether explicitly or implicitly, is viewed as a childhood disorder. As a result, the experiences and concerns of autistic adults are often forgotten and the resources that are available to us are often almost indistinguishable from those available to autistic children. Sometimes, however, the problems that autistic adults face are truly “adult.”

I must pause here to make a confession. I am going to talk about sex now. I have written and rewritten this section of my article some twenty times, trying to make this topic seem less uncomfortable, and I must now admit that it is beyond my abilities as a writer to do so. This is partly because for most people the subject is itself uncomfortable. Sex is not something that we as a society often talk about. References to sex are commonplace and seem completely acceptable to the general population, but discussion of the actual mechanics of the act—how sex actually works—is still very much taboo. Yet, for autistic adults, explicit instruction is exactly what we need—and precisely what we are not getting.

When I came to college I was scared of sex. I had, of course, a basic understanding of what sex is and how it works. I had talked about sex with my parents, in my high school health class and with friends who had begun to explore physically intimate relationships. However, all of these voices were from the perspective of non-autistic people and could not address some of my deepest fears.

I have sensory processing difficulties. Intense physical experiences are often overwhelming for me. How was I going to react to what might arguably be the most physically intense thing that two people can do with each other?  I also have difficulty picking up on body language and tonal cues. How was I going to know when my partner was and was not giving me non-verbal consent? And when their consent was verbal, could I be sure that it was enthusiastic? That they genuinely wanted to be physically intimate with me and were not just giving in to a pressure I didn’t know I was exerting on them?

No one in my life could assuage these concerns and I could find no resources on the topic that offered advice specifically to autistic people. I was terrified of sex, because I did not know if this very intimate and by all accounts pleasurable act was something that I could participate in without harming my partner or myself. That feeling was not so fun.

Since first coming to Bowdoin, those sexual experiences that I have had have been overwhelmingly positive. Many of my concerns have been assuaged simply through long conversations and by taking things slow, and I have now learned through personal experience that there is no such thing as too much consent. While access to resources about sex is no longer a concern for me, it is still a concern for many autistic adults, and until those resources become widely available, there will still be many young autistic adults who are concerned about having sex. Concerned, like I was, about something they need not fear.