Significant Social Relationships

Autism, Dating and Socialization

Relationships on the Spectrum

It is difficult to describe how to approach issues of sex when getting to know someone. Much of this is dependent on the immediate culture. If you're in a community where it is common to "hook up" as the conclusion of a social conversation, that presents a far different issue from meeting someone who thinks drinking coffee together is significant.

Regardless, sexual awareness and sexual healing (addressing limitations in one's sexual behaviour) are an important part of one's personal development and fulfillment as a human.

The trend on college campuses away from formalized dating in favor of "hook up" is encouraging in that it tends to eliminate the barriers of the dating ritual. The dating ritual has been an entry barrier to some autistics to intimate relations and socialization.

Approaching the Subject with Someone

Unless you know it's okay, the subject of sex should be kept ambiguous, or nearly so, when bringing up the topic with a partner. There are circumstances where:
  1. Sexual approaches are acceptable and welcomed;

  2. Sexual approaches are acceptable but rejected -
    The other party may either act offended or decline graciously. In either case, if the invitation was appropriate, you should not feel embarrassed, even though the refusal is a form of rejection;
  3. Sexual approaches are "out of bounds".

  4. The sexual approach was "out of bounds" but only because you misread the situation -
    It could be that the "misreading" of the situation was intentional on the part of your partner. If that person was flirting (intentionally or accidentally), your response should have been expected. That being the case, consider the possibility that the other person's interest may intensify. Alternatively, the other person's putative interest could be misplaced.
If you are unsure of your partner's specific intent (almost always before the first time together), then "plausible ambiguity" (mentioned below) is usually best unless you are with a group where, "Let's hook up" is an acceptable invitation.

If you are the recipient party (have been invited for sex) and are not interested, consider if, under the circumstances, the question is generally appropriate. If the other person is not being offensive, tell that person you are flattered or otherwise treat it as a complement. On the other hand, if it is important that the request never be repeated, say so. (In the latter case, the message is "the first time is treated as flattery; the second time would be offensive."

Plausible Ambiguity

This may seem to be the exclusive realm of NTs, but there are situations where ambiguity is a logical approach. Ambiguity:
  1. Allows de facto denial. - You needn't acknowledge or say anything to effectively deny the (failed) invitation. This becomes particularly important in circumstances where an approach could bring recriminations (e.g., co-workers or people whom one would not expect to get involved with).
  2. Makes a failed invitation less uncomfortable for both parties.
  3. Is often less abrupt than a direct question on the subject of sex. Therefore, it is more polite.
  4. Reduces the impact of a refusal.
  5. Causes your partner to be a little more forward in accepting the invitation, encouraging your partner if inclined to accept.
Of course, there are circumstances where the best approach is a direct one, or a nearly-direct one ("What do you think about...?" or "If the circumstances were right, I would have asked to...")

The fact that sex is considered a private matter makes it difficult to discuss it openly unless the other person's intent is clear.

Plausible Inambiguity

When it is socially appropriate to admit to physical or romantic attraction, inambiguity becomes important. In part, plausible ambiguity can also continue, but now it becomes acceptable to express amorous intentions.

This is important because if a relationship, once defined as potentially romantic, becomes physically expressive early-on, it is less likely to develop into a non-intimate or non-physical relationship. This is particularly relevant to autistics, because we tend to be less expressive in the subtilities that lead to intimacy. This may be a result of lack of communication by facial body language, but whatever the reason, we are often interperted as being "not interested".

It remains important not to make direct sexual advances unless such advances are welcome by the other person. Fortunately, "direct" sexual advances are as defined by society. Thus, sexually obvious forms of touching as defined by society are considered sexual advances, whereas other types of touching can also be arousing, but are not considered to be "direct sexual advances".

I could elaborate on "direct" sexual advances, but this is patently obvious. What are not obvious are activities that can be mildly erotic but which are not considered "direct". "Not direct" can include most things that are appropriate in public. The most obvious example is holding hands, but even this can be done in different ways.

This sort of socially acceptable preliminary intimacy reduces the threshold of the relationship developing.

There is still some subtility required here. In an example, a friend on a first date came up to visit me from a nearby city. Her date started kissing her. At the time she accepted this but considered it too aggressive (in the sense of being too forward). As a result, instead of being turned on, she was turned off, and the relationship didn't go anywhere. I believe he could have pleasantly touched her and the intimacy would have developed later that night.

At the risk of dissecting this, kissing is considered socially acceptable in public (at least in most places), but is still very intimate. In the particular circumstances, kissing was presumptive that sexual intimacy was already a given, while the actual circumstance as perceived by my friend was that she was not in that mood. If they already had an intimate relationship, this would have been different but she hadn't yet gotten to that point in their relationship.

In writing, this looks like inside baseball (a complex strategy), but as a practical matter it is a lot easier to determine what will be accepted and what will not in a relationship. There will be some people who will not be interested in a sexually intimate relationship; however, in cases in which the person is interested, it is possible to facilitate the relationship.

More to the point, it is possible to avoid giving the impression of "being cold" to the relationship. Similarly, it is possible to set the tone of the relationship as one which should develop into a sexually intimate one.

Avoid Being Rote

In addition to making the approach affected, being rote takes away from the enjoyment of the romantic adventure.
"Proof" that sex isn't always important is that it is generally interesting exploring the possibilities of meeting people who appeal to you.

Rote behaviour is especially problematic in romantic relationships, and particularly in sex. It can be a major turnoff.

That said, there are a number of ways to approach the subject of sex which are according to a formula. Most pronounced are approaches which are intended to be ambiguous.


Compulsiveness about a relationship is probably the biggest "turn-off" when meeting a potential partner. This particularly affects men on the Spectrum.

Most people, including many autistics, have learned this. If this is too obvious, please skip to the next section. In any case, awkwardness about the subject is almost universal.

Autistics, and particularly Aspies, tend toward being compulsive, particularly as a relationship is developing. In part this derives from the nature of autism, but is complicated by inexperience in establishing relationships. So more generally, compulsiveness affects autistics as a result of the lack of experience in meeting partners.

The time to focus on sex for the sake or sex is when engaging in the act, or perhaps when it seems to be the time to move to an appropriate location with your partner. One way to approach this is to presume your partner's immediate interest in sex occurs the last minute, when there is no ambiguity about what you are doing. Before that, you are just being amorous. Presume your partner is "flirting" in making suggestions, even if you're hoping the suggestions have real intent behind them.

Avoiding direct approaches is not just NT game playing. Culturally, people don't like to believe their actions are presumed. This especially applies to women with regard to sex. When your partner is interested, it will be difficult to stop her.

Less Focused

While being focused is advantageous for some things (e.g., work), concentrating on an intellectual topic to the exclusion of your being with someone has the expected effect -- it keeps the other person focused on the topic. If you're with your partner, show some polite affection. Don't overwhelm the person, but do give it some semblance of a romantic event.

Similarly, be careful not to let infatuation with a new partner lead you to overwhelm your partner. It's easy to confuse infatuation or insecurity with the relationship itself. It's natural to feel insecure or feel a need to "secure" the relationship early on, but the results are:

Overwhelming your partner
This is often referred to as "scaring the person away". This has the effect of discouraging instead of encouraging your partner.

Establishing long term relationships which do not suit you (or your partner).

Establishing unwanted "ground rules" for the relationship.
If your partner is feeling a need to "force" the relationship, you could inadvertently end up in an over-restrictive relationship. If eventually each of you wants that, then it will come naturally without allowing the relationship to be "forced".

Be Creative

"Being creative" in some ways contradicts the advice to "avoid being rote", but many couples do enjoy some sorts of pleasant games. The human imagination is a powerful aphrodisiac, so the real issue is how to discuss the subject without either pressuring your partner or having the discussion be a "turn off".

In general, activities should not offend the sensibilities of either party.

Regarding sensibilities, there is a substantial cultural element. For example, there are parts of North America where anything non-conventional is viewed with objection, whereas in other places, non-conventionality is almost socially "mandatory".

Getting Intimate

This is another circumstance where it is frequently difficult to avoid committing a faux pas. How do you know when it is okay to get more amorous or physical?

First, if you don't know what the other person wants to do sexually, you can't easily know what's okay. Okay, doing nothing is safe, but it would be nice to know when it's okay to be more physically intimate.

"The right time" is really two things; whether the other person is "in the mood" or nearly so, and whether the person is open to the idea of physical intimacy at the time. So if the person has decided that generically, intimacy with you is okay, and they are in a romantic mood and in an appropriate place, then it's just a matter of communication.

(It also helps that the person has the legal capacity to consent, but I'm presuming that you made sure of that!)

This part is particularly hard for me to describe because I don't know (can't know) every situation and how any individual will perceive a situation.

There are generally accepted forms of touching that sometimes can communicate more than NT body language if you can do it. Kissing is an obvious one. Putting on some music and dancing is a way of getting close. There are some people who are very verbal and sometimes that can be a way to break the ice. Something as simple as holding the person's hand may convey a not-so-subtle message -- holding someone's hand is physical.

While this is very ritualistic, touch should also be spontaneous. Embracing in a mechanical way is not going to make you or your partner feel excited.

Here's one explanation about something that is pretty much planned can also be spontaneous:

The couple will "go with the flow" rather than according to a rigid set of steps. The intent is often firm, but the direction is often like a dog sniffing his way across a field. The dog is enjoying his "task" rather than running directly to the other side.
Meanwhile there is always another person involved. You should be able to expect reciprocation. If you have a sensuous way of hand holding, then your partner should be comfortable in responding. What's pleasant in some circumstances may be irritating in other circumstances, so if that's the case, try to understand the distinction.

From this point, I leave it to the reader to find people they trust who can offer guidance. It's okay to laugh among yourselves, but make sure that the person you are asking isn't there to give you a hard time in front of other people.

The good news is that all of this gets easier once you've gotten used to it.

One other thing -- you should not be afraid to say "no" if you're uncomfortable about something.

or If You Decide Not to Get Intimate

If you don't want to get intimate, don't.

There is some confusion there because of the "Soft refusal and (then) surrender" ritual. The idea is that some women prefer a false modesty in order to pretend that they really don't have sex with everyone they date or something like that. This is really a relic of a bygone era, but if you wish to play that game, then play it by "the rules".

First, make a determination on your own whether you wish to have sex. Sometimes you may be encouraged by the "heat of the moment", but that should come from within you.

Then if you want to go along with the "Refusal and then soft surrender" ritual, do it with full knowledge that you are doing something you want to do, and perhaps wanted to do all along. Do not do it because you are merely giving in to pressure.

There's a lot more out there on the web, including some information from Coalition for Positive Sexuality at, an education site focused on teens and young adults. (¡Di Que Si! - Coalition for Positive Sexuality en Espanol)

... Except

Don't allow yourself to create a wall of refusal which locks you out of learning about your sexual self.

Don't Get Caught by Absolutes

While it's convenient to determine that one would never [insert an activity], real life is not clear cut. Use the underlying values as a basis for judging the appropriateness of whatever you do. In general, it's not likely you'll violate your own values even if the circumstances suggest partaking in what you generally would have avoided.

In other words, the values behind a predetermined decision are more important than the predetermined decision itself.

On NT Religious Mores

Many of society's "rules" relating to inhibitions and repressed sexuality are driven by NT values. Often these are religion-based, but similar injunctions against open sexuality are also seen in non-religious societies -- they are NT "rules" masquerading as religious values. If one goes back into history, these "rules" were completely different, and matched the standards of those times. (We see some of this today, where religious institutions are either recognizing non-married couples or at least recognizing the existence of these couples. For example, the (US) Eastern Baptist Seminary has been accepting of seminarians living as non-married couples.)

If we suppose some of the rules of society are just that -- rules of society based on NT values, and not an organic part of one's religious beliefs, then we must take an objective view of those rules. For those on The Spectrum, a logical approach is generally best.

In the case of sexual mores, one should fit within societal norms to the extent of not being too far out of touch with others' expectations:

A Standard


  • Determine what you want.
  • Determine what you and your partner want.
  • Do things because you want to; not because you feel pressured.
  • Do something because it fits your own desire unless it is contrary to your partner's desire.
  • If someone asks for something that you don't want, feel free to refuse. If it's very important to the other person and you don't have significant objections, then it's okay to go along with the other person's wishes.
  • What you are doing is right if it is right for your own self-image and does not cause significant problems.
You need not make excuses for your behaviour. There's a distinction between some people's professed ideals and the "operating rules" they live by. Following a realistic ethos is a way of being true to oneself. NTs have a cognitive difficulty with that concept, but will respect you for it.
In the realm of religion whose leaders hail from Planet Aspie (and wear corduroy robes), the scripture is inscribed with logic!

Further discussion of religion on The Spectrum is here.
Links on the subject of religion on The Spectrum are at


... is a form of possessiveness which can be more destructive than beneficial. In general, you cannot control your partner's interest in other people because you cannot control your partner. You cannot control what your partner thinks.

This is not a bad thing. Essentially your partner's loyalty is that person's self-identification as your partner, and all that goes along with it. Diversions are just that -- diversions.

Jealousy too easily converts to controlling behaviour, or at its extreme, abusive behaviour. The effect of these actions is generally the opposite, in that the person controlled tends to resist and react to the control. If the person doesn't resist it's because there was no reason for jealousy in the first place.

Nevertheless, one should accept the possibility that one's partner may seek diversions -- either real or symbolic. (Symbolic can be such things as media. There are some people who would consider pornography as "unfaithfulness", which of course it is not. Pornography is just pornography.)

Ultimately, if one cares for another, one would theoretically want the other person to seek pleasure, even if it is with another person. That's just the theory, since human nature makes most of us uncomfortable with the idea. But there is a logical disconnect between a desire for a partner's pleasure and a desire to limit the partner. Both can be defined as a form of mutual loyalty, but "loyalty" is likely to exist either way.

Taking different "worst case scenarios", if one is resolved toward insisting on "faithfulness", one is unlikely to know when the person is seeking diversion. If one is open to the concept of letting the relationship seek its own level, then their partner will be less likely hide whatever they're doing.

Jealousy does have one beneficial aspect -- it inspires (North American) country music writers!

But How Does One Address One's Partner "Wandering"

People are so adverse to the concept of their partner showing infidelity, that this tends to adversely affect their own relationships.

If one discovers one's partner has a tendency to "wander", one needs to determine how to react. One could simply terminate the relationship, which is reasonable if one cannot accept one's partner's "wandering". Alternatively, you can be open about it, being careful to avoid recriminations or stimulating competitive jealousy.

(We're presuming we're not talking about structured or semi-structured arrangements, where "wandering" is accepted. An example of a "structured" or "semi-structured" arrangement could be continuing to go to singles-oriented events together to meet people.)

More to the point, if you're faced with the fact that your partner is "cheating", then you have two choices:

  1. break away from the relationship (break up; divorce);
  2. reach accommodation.
The first choice (breaking up) is obvious. The second alternative is far more complex:
2a.     Try to "work it out" so it won't happen again.
- I suppose that's possible, but the odds are against you. (I don't include "new" relationships here.)

2b.     Hope it's a one-time thing
(no comment)

2c.     Accept the new reality and live life accordingly.
- I had a friend whose husband placed her in that situation by taking up with a new girlfriend while out of town on an extended work assignment. She ended up divorcing him, but she could have simply accepted the situation, and extended her own social life outside of the marriage. In hindsight, she would have been able to enjoy herself in this new reality. (In typical AS style, I didn't see that circumstance as a better alternative until it was too late -- my friend went through with the divorce instead.)

2d.     Create a new arrangement.
- If the parties don't really like the living arrangements they set up for themselves, they can look at different alternative couples lifestyles.
Taking the above perspective, having a partner who likes to "wander" is a lot different from having a partner who likes to wander but won't acknowledge it. If you remain open to all possibilities, you are less likely to get "blindsided" with a changed reality.

The real issue then becomes how to reach accommodation with your partner in a manner which enhances the relationship.

Avoid Hurting Your Partner If You Wish to Wander

This seems contradictory to the above comments but it really is different.

There is really no answer for this issue, except to remain faithful to the relationship in the sense of exclusivity. Unless otherwise expressed, that is the expectation in a marriage, and is often the case with other partnership arrangements. The only ethical way around this is to offer your partner the opportunity to change the groundrules of the relationship in this regard. Only if your partner is like-minded (and expresses this), then you have some basis to change the groundrules.

The reason this does not contradict the suggestion above is because:

  1. Accepting one's partner's decision to become nonexclusive while in a (formerly) exclusive relationship is unlikely and uncommon. It is much more likely that one's partner will remain hurt.
  2. The acceptance of a relationship becoming nonexclusive is really the second step. That arrangement doesn't exist in most relationships and it is unfair to one's partner to presume it does exist.
The suggestion above that "unfaithfulness" can be worked out does not mean that one should ignore one's relationship and presume this will be okay with one's partner.

The Dynamics

Be careful here.

The reason this usually does not work is that a suggestion of converting an exclusive relationship to a non-exclusive or "open" relationship is itself a suggestion of infidelity. It may be possible to discuss the concept apart from making it a suggestion but even that tends to be suggestive of what your partner could see as disloyalty.

Therefore, a suggestion of an open relationship is more welcome if ones' partner has already determined that exclusivity is unsuitable and has already entertained the idea at some level.

Also consider that there are inherent complications to an open relationship which are to some extent unavoidable. This is partially addressed by structured arrangements and workable "ground rules". Regardless, having a partner going out with other people can be awkward.

This also means that if one is establishing a relationship one must be careful to avoid implications of exclusivity unless that is what one wants.


If you're adverse to intimacy because sexual activity brings discomfort (physical or psychological), do what you can to try to address this. Activity with you partner should be very pleasurable, so if it is not, do what you can to find out what prevents it from being so. A search of the title of this article, "Sexual Healing" (with quotes) should generate a number of articles on various aspects of the subject.

Don't Be a Breeder

It's absolutely silly and reckless to go out and have a baby as a single parent prior to developing a career or otherwise creating a meaningful life for yourself as the parent. You and the child deserve better. It is possible to rear a child without any meaningful experience in life, but what of the child raised in such an environment? If you wish to intelligently raise a child, then do just that -- seek higher education and establish a life of sorts. Wait to consider children until you have reached that point.

One of the authors of "Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage" (either Kathryn Edin or Maria Kefalas) found that 60% of births in Philadelphia were by single mothers. The girls' decisions were largely deliberate ones, in which they regarded having a baby at a young age a life ambition or treated getting pregnant as a "rite of passage".

The authors then asked girls in Lower Merion High (in Philadelphia's Main Line suburban area; the researchers were based in Villanova Univ. located nearby) about whether they were interested in having babies. The girls universally stated that they'd first have to complete college, establish a career, etc.

The contrast between the two groups is noteworthy, since reduced sexual inhibition is generally associated with more well-to-do classes of society. Philadelphia's Main Line is a stereotype for that category, yet the culture of having babies at an early age is essentially non-existent on that side of City Line Ave.

The Promises I Can Keep study also seems to refute the argument that sex education in school encourages pregnancy. Philadelphia and Lower Merion both have active sex education programmes, but there is a clear disconnect between awareness of sex or being sexually active on one hand, and teen pregnancy on the other.

In both groups, the issue was whether having babies is in itself an accomplishment in life. These were NTs who presumably had the social skills to deal with career issues. As applied to autistics, it is clear that early motherhood is not at all suited for coping with life.

These issues apply to men as well as women. Men in particular should be aware of their partner's intentions in this regard. Instead of becoming a "dud" (term for a male breeder), you can keep your partner from making rash decisions.

On Abortion

Regardless of your personal views, it's best to make a "what if" decision before getting pregnant. There are too many emotional issues and biological stimuli to make the decision easy once one is pregnant.

Another reason to think of this ahead of time is that you want to look back at the decision and know it was well thought-out and reasoned.

One's attitude toward abortion affects determinations concerning contraception, so it helps to think about "what if".

Be circumspect when listening to others' opinions on the subject. NTs have a tendency to profess one ideal and follow another course. That isn't disingenuous; it's just the way that NTs express themselves. In the case of religious-political ideals, it can be confusing. This sort of expression of a strongly stated position which contradicts accepted behaviour is fairly common with issues involving sexuality.


There are other forums which provide good information on the subject. Briefly, contraception is a combination of natural and artificial techniques.

In particular, one should have a backup method at least during peak fertility times. This could be a simple as an abortion contingency or could be a combination of physical and chemical barriers. If your method (e.g., the pill) is itself fairly reliable, then a backup is probably not necessary; however most contraceptives are less reliable.

For couples whose female member is under 30, consider that some forms of non-penetrating activity also bring risk of pregnancy as a result of sperm entry. Usually any chemical barrier is effective to prevent such "virgin births".

Female fertility diminishes significantly with age, and it is not uncommon for women in the late 30s and early 40s to use less reliable forms of contraception or none at all. After 47, spontaneous pregnancy (meaning without fertility treatment) is exceedingly rare.

HIV and other STDs

Health issues and avoidance of STDs get some attention. As a practical matter, if you're particularly concerned, it is possible for you and your partner to get blood tested. If you feel it necessary, take more precautions. In the meantime, I'll leave the dire predictions of doom to the media.

I'm writing this in the US. Heterosexual non-IDU (I-V drug users) make up 11% of HIV cases in North America. Moreover, most of that 11% are within particular ethnic groups. Statistically, the HIV infection rate for all high risk groups should have equalized by 1986; however this hadn't occurred in North America. In 2000, the percentage of heterosexual infection as a percentage of total HIV in the US was:
Black:         16%
Hispanic:     13%
White:         5%
2007 Percentage of Total HIV Rate (i.e., rate adjusted for population), all risk categories:
Asian:         3.6%
Black:         49%
Hispanic:     17%
White:         5%
2007 Raw Numbers, rate/100,000, all risk categories:
Asian:         7.7
Black:         76.7
Hispanic:     27.7
White:         9.2
more information at
more information at
In part, this relates to a prevalence of people who are homozygous for the CCR5 Δ32 gene variant (the 32 bp deletion (Δ32/Δ32)), which substantially decreases infection rates. This resistance to HIV has not been sufficient to protect gay couples, although it may be that "double CCR5 Δ32" (Δ32/Δ32) occurrence offers protection.

The above statistics should also apply to other populations whose ancestors were exposed to Plague in the Middle Ages, due to the effect of Plague on Δ32 occurrence in the population.

If you're in one of the higher risk groups, use proper precautions.

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First written 26 Jan 06. Last revised 21 Sep 09.

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