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Sexual Problems and Neurodiverse Couples

sexual dissatisfaction in neurodiverse couples
Five key factors contribute to sexual dissatisfaction in neurodiverse couples

It is no secret that neurodiverse couples, where one person has Autism Spectrum Disorder and the other does not, have certain challenges in creating a satisfying, fulfilling relationship. An area where this challenge is especially noticeable is sexual intimacy. One Autism researcher found that 50% of neurodiverse couples reported no sexual activity in their relationship. Without a doubt many couples are dissatisfied with the sexual relationship they do have, and many of the neurotypical partners in these relationships are uncertain about why this is.

Here is a list of deficits that seriously impact the sexual intimacy in a neurodiverse relationship, deficits that generally are the result of the emotional and social challenges of the ASD partner.

Deficiency in Theory of Mind

This refers to the difficulty people with Autism Spectrum Disorder have in understanding that others have thoughts and feelings that are different from their own. This makes it difficult to think about what’ is going on in someone else’s head, including expectations, needs, fears, and desires. When the ability to imagine what one’s partner needs and wants is lacking, the giving and receiving of physical enjoyment is severely curtailed.

Communication Impasses

Communication is fundamental to whether a relationship works or not, and it is the key ingredient to maintaining a relationship in a workable state. The deficits caused by Autism Spectrum Disorder impact communication and are often the main cause of sexual dissatisfaction, when shared desires and an interest in satisfying one’s partner’s needs are either misrepresented or absent.

Deficits in non-verbal communication are particularly problematic in neurodiverse sexual relationships since the physical, intimate expressions that are integral to sexual satisfaction are compromised when the ASD partner cannot “read” what a partner needs, wants, and does not want.


Many people with Autism Spectrum Disorder are preoccupied with their own needs, interests, desires, etc. and have trouble both seeing and attending to those of their partner. Obviously, when this is prominent it affects the entirety of an intimate relationship including, and in many cases especially, sexual intimacy. A frequent complaint of neurotypical partners is that the ASD partner’s sexual interest is focused mostly on being pleasured and not pleasing the other.

Sensory Issues

Up to 90 percent of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder are either overly sensitive to sound, sight, taste, smell or touch, or barely notice them at all. Because of this many ASD partners are reluctant to physically touch their partner or are averse to the smells and tastes that often accompany sexual intimacy.

Clearly, this contributes a layer of challenge that many neurotypical partners find suffocating, disagreeable or lacking depending upon the degree to which the sensory difference impacts their sexual relationship.

Emotional Intimacy

Even though emotional intimacy, or the lack thereof, can be thought of as a consequence of the above list of deficits, I add it because it captures what many neurotypical partners characterize as the main problem they experience sexually with their partner.

Indeed, emotional intimacy is what most people with Autism Spectrum Disorder report as the main missing ingredient in their own lives. In many cases, the fact that it is missing is not necessarily a problem, as intimacy is not a high priority for them. Nevertheless, within an ongoing romantic relationship, the lack of emotional intimacy almost always impacts sexual intimacy. Whatever the cause may be, a lack or absence of emotional closeness, affection, caring and desire make sexual satisfaction hard to achieve. It is the main reason why many neurodiverse couples feel so unhappy with their sexual relationship and struggle so hard to stay together.


Dr. Kenneth Roberson

Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Adult Autism Psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience. Click below to ask a question or schedule an appointment.

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