Relearning Pleasure as an Autistic Woman
Labels define all of us, though not necessarily for the right reasons. We see this daily. Mine have been attached to me for the best part of six years now – that I am Autistic, and a Cis-gender female.
From the very beginning, it was something always under the lens, a way for people to misinterpret me and misjudge before even getting to know me. But there was always something else underneath, something that messed with my brain for a long time; ‘pleasure’ was sort of off-limits.
The pandemic has given me the chance to re-learn this.
One particular assessment – prior to me being a teenager, asked if I had a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Partner was apparently too sophisticated. I was at the stage where ‘boys were yucky’, complete with nineties slogans like ‘Girl power’. My Autism assessment inaccurately suggested I do not look to share pleasure with people – and gave a recent concert as an example of me not sharing the experience with the people I attended with. An inordinate amount of questions relied upon boyfriends – do you have a boyfriend, do you have an interest in any boys? It was ‘that way’ for many years. For years while in education I was deemed “ugly”, and was often bullied – with much of that based around the way that I looked. I was viewed as the sexless being, someone who inhibited their own space, who dressed ‘in the grey’, dumpy and cuddly. Simultaneously I was told that I could never love, that I would never be loved – because you have to understand what is love to be loved, and my ASD apparently means this is impossible. More than ‘just a few’ have this stereotype.
People have spoken for me for so often – and that still continues to a degree today, simply because my disability is to do with communication. But that should not have to define how we view ourselves.
The concept of a relationship is something unnerving to me, even now. My communication is not the best by any means – and I am always, always learning to be better. I am not ‘quite there’ yet and will always be slightly behind people who are neurotypical and the same age as me. Being demisexual during a pandemic does not exactly allow for corrective action, as I have to have a strong emotional connection with someone.
‘Pleasure’ has been denied to me for a long time, enough to the point that ‘sex education’ was not exactly accessible. We are more than the sum of our partners, our coupledom, and you can have a ‘good time’ by yourself, if that is your preference. I still feel resentful at times that this is something I had to ‘catch up’ with, and in my own time thanks to societal restrictions. We all measure ourselves too much by society and the expectations, like having to have been married prior to the age of thirty, having achieved x by forty.
My interoceptive system is impaired, which is not something that was made clear to me at the time of diagnosis. Interoception is the system that allows your brain to interpret sensations; this also has a lot to do with the interpretation of emotions. It does not mean that someone like me is emotionless; we just have to learn how to recognise sensations and emotions a little more manually.
A pandemic gives you space for some things, while having to deal with lots of changes, and quickly. When it became clear that it would be more than the arbitrary duration suggested by the Prime Minister, I felt resigned, dejected.
‘Sexual pleasure’ was something that I would just have to learn and practice on my own. My bedroom is fairly private, just a few thin walls, so extra care would need to be taken.
Using a ‘bullet vibraor’ was a bit weird at first. The interoception system played a part in this; it felt more like a tickle? No one tells you about ‘the very basics’ – such as the function of lube, how sex toys can sometimes be noisy. (Not always great when you have hypersensitivity issues – meaning loud noises can sometimes be painful if there are many all at once.) Having a playlist helped, such as with headphones – to ‘stay in your head’ more, to not be so aware of the bullet’s noise. This particularly helped over time more, as I began to work out what I liked. No one is observing you so you can let go of any shame you have about not recognising pleasure well. It does not matter if you do not experience an orgasm – something which I have yet to experience.
Pleasure is subjective to everyone and some of us have to re-learn it. It doesn’t make us weird or a bad person and we should recognise this far more.