Autism and Adult Sex Education: A Literature Review Using the Information–Motivation–Behavioral Skills Framework
Adults on the autism spectrum report comparable levels of desire for sex and sexual satisfaction as adults who are not on the spectrum. However, there has been little empirical focus on the need for sexual and relationship-oriented education for youth on the spectrum as they transition to adulthood. In this review, we use the Information–Motivation–Behavioral Skills Model of sexual health behavior change as a lens through which to understand the experiences of adults on the autism spectrum. We present those insights infused with emerging data and best practices in the field. Overall, it appears clear from the extant literature that providers need to recognize the specific characteristics of autism when developing sexual education curricula. Specifically, the social communication and sensory profile of people on the autism spectrum appears to interact with access to information, motivation to engage in healthy sexual activities, and the development of skills needed to engage in healthy sexual behavior. Finally, the voice of adults on the spectrum is essential to guide the emerging understanding of healthy sexuality.
KeywordsAutism Sexuality Sex education Sexual health Romantic relationships United States
DS drafted the manuscript including the review of best practices and self-report of adults on the spectrum. DP contributed to the application of the IMB model for adults on the spectrum, and reviewed the literature related to sexuality in autism. He also revised and edited the manuscript. SF contributed to the conceptualization of the model including the emphasis on autism specific needs in intervention. She contributed to the literature review and to editing and revising the manuscript. All authors have reviewed and approved the manuscript prior to submission.
This publication was supported in part by the National Institute of Mental Health under Award Number R03 MH 113966. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.
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