Sexual and Relationship Interest, Knowledge, and Experiences Among Adolescents and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Arch Sex Behav. 2019 Nov;48(8):2605-2615. doi: 10.1007/s10508-019-1445-2. Epub 2019 Apr 22.


Little research exists to describe sexual and romantic relationships among adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) from their perspectives. Sexuality and intimacy are developmentally important and influence health and quality of life for all adolescents and young adults, including those with ASD. This study explored and compared the sex and relationship experiences of 27 adolescents and young adults with ASD (males = 20). Adolescents and young adults participated in semi-structured interviews to explore this topic. Using theme analysis, we uncovered four thematic categories: (1) interest in relationships, (2) ideal partners, (3) realities of adolescent and young adult relationships, and (4) advice about sex and relationships. Although many adolescents and young adults expressed wanting a relationship, few reported having partners. Among those that did, their actual relationships rarely met ideals. Most adolescents and young adults talked with parents and friends but not healthcare providers about sex and relationships. All adolescents and young adults described the need for additional education. Adolescents and young adults express the need for education that covers basic safety and sexual health topics as well as social/relationship skills building and courtship modeling. These findings can inform the design of tailored sexual health intervention. Future research should examine specific issues related to sexuality from the adolescents' and young adults' perspectives.

Keywords: Adolescents/youth; Autism; Intimacy; Sexuality; Young adults.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Quality of Life / psychology*
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Sexual Partners / psychology*
  • Young Adult