Sexuality and sexual development

Sexuality is diverse, and deeply personal. Sexuality is about the sexual feelings and attractions we feel towards other people, not about who we have sex with. There are different types of sexuality, and it can take time to figure out what fits right with you.

Exploration and experimentation with sexuality is normal and common. It is important to recognise that we are all different, we should be respectful and positive about people’s sexuality or sexual relationships, and support their right to explore their sexuality in a safe, consensual and responsible way.

Many teenagers with autism can find it difficult to:

  • Understand feelings of intimacy, attraction and affection
  • Express their feelings

It is important that all teenagers (with and without autism) understand:

  • Consent – consent means that both people agree to and feel OK about whatever sexual experimentation they are going to partake in.
  • Safety – safety means that both parties understand and are protected against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, and that the experience is respectful and non-violent.
  • Sexual relationships are a normal part of life
  • Teenagers should not to use sex for popularity
  • Touching

Teenagers with autism can be vulnerable to abuse because they don’t always recognise when something’s not right. Teaching explicitly the difference between good touch and bad touch is important.

  • Visual supports showing appropriate and inappropriate touching can help. Social Stories™ might also be useful.

Some books can be helpful, such as:

  • What’s Happening to Tom: A book about puberty for boys and young men with autism and related conditions (Sexuality and Safety with Tom and Ellie) by Kate E Reynolds (2014) Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London, UK
  • What’s Happening to Ellie: A book about puberty for girls and young women with autism and related conditions (Sexuality and Safety with Tom and Ellie) by Kate E Reynolds (2014) Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London, UK
  • Things Tom Likes: A book about sexuality and masturbation for boys and young men with autism and related conditions ) by Kate E Reynolds (2015) Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London, UK
  • Things Ellie Likes: A book about sexuality and masturbation for girls and young women with autism and related conditions ) by Kate E Reynolds (2015) Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London, UK
  • Busy Bodies: A book about puberty for you and your parents, by The Health Promotion Department, HSE South (2008), HSE South
  • Sexuality and Severe Autism: A practical guide for parents, caregivers and health educators, by Kate E Reynolds (2013) Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London, UK