Autism is conceptualized in much scientific literature as being associated with restricted and repetitive interests, characterized by an ‘empathy deficit’, and negatively impacting social communication. Meanwhile, ‘good and healthy’ sexuality is largely considered to be a social endeavor: asexuality and sexualities defined by acts rather than by partner gender—for example kink or BDSM—are broadly pathologized. Perhaps, therefore, first-hand autistic experiences of sexuality challenge existing assumptions about ‘good and healthy’ sexualities within couplehood. As a theoretical starting point to explore this potential, we revisit Gayle Rubin’s notion of ‘sex within the charmed circle’ to ask whether autistic sexuality can ever truly ‘fit’ within this (neurotypically defined) virtuous sexual arena. We further consider the ways in which the intersection of autism and sexuality is understood and experienced in first-hand autistic accounts of sexuality within a specific context, through analysis of a Swedish online discussion forum in which autistic people discuss sexuality. In doing so we seek both to better understand autistic sexual experience, and to track and deconstruct potentially restrictive assumptions of (non-autistic) couple sexuality more generally. We also consider ways in which assumptions of deficit concerning both non-normative sexualities and autism may have a deleterious effect on autistic people and on research more broadly, limiting theoretical and conceptual understandings of autism and autistic ways of (sexual) being by a default comparison to sexual and neurological norms.
- Epistemological communities