Saturday, May 25, 2013

Autism Spectrum and Sex



Sex is a topic that isn't frequently discussed in connection to Autism Spectrum Disorders. There are a few books and several websites, but in general,  sex is often an issue that gets overlooked. In the book Asperger’s From the Inside Out, author Michael John Carley discusses how issues around sex can be difficult for many adults with Asperger’s.  Sensory issues, inadequate sex education, and difficulties with social skills can all contribute to problems in establishing and maintaining a healthy adult sex life. Therefore, I thought this topic would be a good place to turn to an expert.
In this repost of an earlier entry, I’m conversing with Isadora Alman, a Board certified sexologist and a California licensed psychotherapist and counselor. She’s the author of "Ask Isadora," a syndicated advice column on sex and relationships, which appears in newsweeklies nationwide, as well as the Sexuality Forum website.
Patricia Robinson: For starters, can you please explain exactly what a Board certified sexologist is, and how they work with clients?
Isadora Alman: As you know, the state of California licenses people helpers of several sorts: psychologists, social workers, and marriage and family therapists.  All have their areas of expertise in people helping.  There is no licensing for those who make sexuality their specialty so there are several professional organizations such as the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists and The American Board of Sexology who review the professional experience and expertise of those who do specialize and give them certification.
A sex therapist or a sexologist (one who studies sexuality) will be knowledgeable in relationships and in sexuality because one generally takes place within the context of the other.  I might work with clients who have little or no sexual knowledge or experience, making referrals and offering resources to gain know-how and confidence.  If a client's sexual expression is not as satisfying as it might be, I will work with him or her in making suggestions to improve knowledge and skill.  And, since communication is a very important part of finding a partner and enjoying sexual expression, I will also help with that.
Patricia Robinson: I think lack of sexual experience and lack of confidence can be common issues for adults on the autism spectrum, maybe those who didn't get to experience dating and relationships when they were younger. How would you help a client who feels less experienced than peers?
Isadora Alman: For social skills I don't think there's anything better than a mixed (men and women) support or therapy group.  There's is almost always one nearby anywhere in the Bay Area.  There one can get information, support and feedback from others without going on an actual "date" until s/he is ready.
In matters of sexuality I strongly recommend educational explicit films put out by folks like the Sinclair Institute that show and teach all manner of sexual expression.  I recommend a massage course to learn how to touch and be touched.  I recommend weekend workshops such as the Human Awareness Institute's "Love, Sex & Intimacy".  If a client would like, I can also make a referral to a sexual surrogate partner of either sex to learn hands on skills.
Patricia Robinson: There is so much information on sex on the Internet, and there are many different types of people to work with. (Therapists, medical doctors, sexologists, surrogate partners.) How can my readers be sure that they're getting good, educational and ethical information and help, and not just wandering into a misleading or exploitive situation?
Isadora Alman: The Internet is full of misinformation, it's true. Anyone can post anything. Unfortunately, there also exist people with degrees who may act unethically or have their own agendas, but usually membership in an accredited institution such as the American Medical Association or the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists is a fairly reliable endorsement.  The very best endorsement is a referral from someone you know and trust who has used that person's services before.  Ask around.  Ask other professionals you trust to recommend someone. Sometimes the same name comes up as a resource from several sources.  That's a good indication that this person is respected in his or her field.
Patricia Robinson: Isadora, thanks so much for talking to me on this topic. I’m sure this is an article that will be useful to many of my readers.