A woman with orange nails holds her naked breasts.
Any Given Sunday – Part 2
June 10, 2024
A woman in a short white t-shirt and grey panties is bent forward.
Any Given Sunday – Part 3
June 16, 2024
Two women stand together, touching foreheads for an intimate moment.

*This is the first part of a two-part series examining the dating experiences of autistic sapphics, and offering insight to help non-autistic members of our community better engage with autistic partners and love interests.*


But are autistic people able to have sex?”  The question sent me into a complete stupor. It was 2016.

I don’t remember who asked me — maybe a worker at one of the big autism charities in Saint Petersburg, or maybe a well-meaning queer “ally” that wanted to be friendly to the autistic community, and didn’t know how to do it. But it definitely happened in Russia, where I was living at the time. 

It wasn’t the first time I had seen this question asked.

As a Ukrainian refugee, I couldn’t have a normal job, but I was a loud and proud autistic queer activist. I spent almost all of my time helping the local LGBTQ+ community, and working on my own projects. The first one was a website, Neurodiversity in Russian, the first Russian-language website dedicated to the idea that there is nothing wrong with being autistic. The second was LGBTI+ Autistics, the first Russian-language project focusing on the intersectionality of autism and queerness. I also provided workshops, gave lectures, and moderated support group meetings.

In my work, I translated a lot of articles about autistic families from English, including articles about queer autistic families. Over and over, I saw this question: “Can autistic people have sex?” 

In a 2012 blog post written by brilliant non-binary autistic activist Lydia X. Z. Brown, she addresses this common question. I was especially surprised by Brown’s experiences with this question because she lived in the United States, and people in the USA are usually much better informed about autism than those in post-Soviet countries. But, again, here was the same question.

I translated Brown’s article into Russian, and started to wonder about the roots of this common question.

The Invisibility of Autistic Relationships in Popular Culture

I hope you have already gathered that yes, autistic people can (and do) have sex. Maybe you are autistic as well, so the answer is obvious for you. 

There is not much difference between autistic and non-autistic varieties of sexual and romantic relationships, with two exceptions. The first one is that society infantilizes autistic people, so we are often considered “sex-less.”

The second is that, in reality, there are more LGBTQ+, asexual, and aromantic  people among autistic populations than among non-autistic groups. The reason for this is unknown. My own explanation, that some experts may not share, is that because autistic people are less influenced by a dominant culture and are processing cultural norms differently, it’s easier for us to recognize and accept our queerness. Also, we are already “outsiders,” so it may be less stressful for many of us to be openly queer. 

Yet there is no proper representation of autistic LGBTQ+ families and relationships in mass media. Most of the autistic people the media depicts are white, heterosexual, cisgender men.

In this article, I’m going to talk about autistic sapphic relationships. These are the only types of relationships I know about from a personal perspective — I was assigned female at birth, I am married to a women, and before I accepted myself as a non-binary trans* masculine person, I identified as a lesbian. 


Autistic Women and Non-Binary Folks Are Largely Discounted

Autistic women, and non-binary people in general, are less likely to be diagnosed with autism than cis-men, even in countries like the UK and USA, where the situation with diagnosis is much better than in many other countries.

Women and non-binary autistic folks are more likely to be able to “hide” their autism, and pass as “normal.” This behavior is called “masking,” and it is very harmful for the mental state of autistic women because it pushes them to live a non-authentic life. It is extremely exhausting to always pretend to be someone else, and it also makes it more difficult to get support if it is needed. This issue of struggling to ask for help often leaks into sexual and romantic relationships.


Specifics of Dating While Autistic

The biggest problem that autistic queer people face in romantic and sexual relationships occurs when an autistic person tries to appear “normal.” I say this not just from my personal experience, but also as a former leader of an autistic support group. Our problems in dating don’t stem from “poor social skills,” or that “not trying hard enough.” Actually, many autistic women and non-binary people are trying too hard, suppressing their actual needs, hiding their problems from their partners, and sometimes even from themselves. This leads to burnout, conflicts, and misunderstandings.

Unfortunately, because heteronormativity has long been considered the blueprint, there have always been queer folks who struggle to accept more radical and unique ways of living. For these folks, accepting autism can feel like a double struggle. This comes up often in queer relationships where one of the partners is not autistic, and tries to press their autistic partner to be “normal,” or accept a “traditional” way of having relationships. For example, non-autistic people often forget that because of sensory issues many autistic folks may need more explanation before sex. Things like slight touching or “surprising” use of a new sex-toy may be extremely stressful for an autistic partner, and partners need to be aware of and consider this. Problems arise when a non-autistic partner ignores, or even makes fun of autistic person’s feelings, or when an autistic partner is trying to hide their discomfort.

So, if there is any advice I want to give to autistic women and fellow non-binary people, it’s that it’s better to be open to your partners about who you are and what specific needs you have, if it is safe for you to do so. If you don’t feel safe to share your needs, there are other very big problems in your relationship, problems that stem from things beyond autism. 


Does Autistic + Autistic = A Perfect Match?

The best relationship I’ve ever seen was between an autistic couple, as both partners fully accepted each other. Yes, that’s right: autistic people often date other autistic people. 

We often meet our partners on the internet, which can be a life-saving tool for many autistic queers, as it helps us find our people. For example, I met my wife on social media, in a group dedicated to the Babylon 5 TV show. 

Autistic people are often bound by our special interests, and prefer to info-dump on those topics with each other, instead of having difficult small-talk. And even in “common spaces,” like universities, club meetings, or the workplace, autistic people can often somehow recognize one another.

It is generally easier for an autistic person to understand another autistic person, just like it is easier for a “neurotypical” person (a person that doesn’t have any neurological differences), to understand another neurotypical person. Autism is simply a different way of processing the world, so people with different neurotypes could have “cultural barriers” between them. This may make things a little more difficult, because people with different ways of thinking at first could have problems in understanding each other’s needs and experiences. My favorite metaphor is that a relationship between two different neurotypes is like a relationship between people who came from completely different civilizations.

However, healthy romantic and sexual relationships between autistic and neurotypical people are possible. In my next article for this series, I’ll suggest ways to nurture a relationship when one partner is neurotypical and the other is autistic.




Writer Ayman Eckford poses in front of a rocky beach.
Ayman Eckford
Ayman Eckford is a transgender autistic person, freelance journalist, and LGBTQ+ activist. They were born in Donetsk, Ukraine, and now living in Sheffield, UK, as a refugee. They write about human rights, gender issues, and disability justice. Follow them on Instagram at @ayman_eckford.