Other Ways of Doing it: Alternative Forms of Intimacy in Neurodiverse Couples

 

After completing my certification as a neurodiversity sexuality professional from the Modern Sex Therapy Institute, I deepened my understanding of neurodiversity and intimacy. Previously, I had written on the importance of those with NLVD (Nonverbal Learning Disorder) communicating sensory needs  (Finding the Healing Touch: How Adults with NVLD Can Effectively Articulate their Sensory Needs to their Partners, by Benjamin Meyer, LCSW, 2018). However, I believe that we should ask some more fundamental question regarding what physical intimacy, and how it can be expressed and shared within neurodiverse couples.

I have noticed the ubiquitous references to a “healthy sex life” on online articles and podcasts. It can be implied, perhaps inadvertently, that “better sex and intimacy” equals more frequent and passionate sex.  However, acts of intimacy can vary between people, especially within neurodiverse couples, so why does it need to be explicitly sexual? In what ways are we excluding people with heightened sensory sensitivities if we define intimacy as exclusively or primarily sexual? The reality is that intimacy can involve much more than just sex and include both physical and emotional elements; we should keep this in mind when working with neurodiverse couples.

A while back, I wrote a blog on the possible link between neurodiversity and asexuality (Benjamin Meyer, Different in More Ways than One: Autism Spectrum, NVLD, Asexuality, and Intersectionality, 2021). I also found it interesting to discover another online blog that reviewed a study indicating that there is a higher prevalence of asexuality within the neurodivergent population than the neurotypical; the specific  research cited that 8.25 percent of neurodivergent men identified as asexual compared with 0.8 percent in neurotypical males, while autistic women self-reported a prevalence of 22 percent versus 1.5 percent in the neurotypical population (Silvertant, 2023). Furthermore, the author states that the sensory sensitivity experienced by many neurodivergent people may be a contributing factor to asexuality for some (Silvertant, 2023). If being on the asexual spectrum is more common for the neurodivergent, then perhaps we should all be more expansive and encompassing in how we define intimacy when working with this population.

I am always astounded by the ways couples experience intimacy. In fact, many people tell me that lying on the bed, maintaining eye contact, or simply holding hands is just as, if not more, intimate than sex. Therefore, maybe a healthy form of intimacy for some couples is sharing physical affection. Unfortunately, all too many couples are told that their relationship is not valid if they are not engaging in traditional sex. However, due to the sensory overload of sexual contact, a more inclusive version of intimacy is just as valid and needed.

I recently completed a course with MSTI, or the “Modern Sex Therapy Institute,” on kink or non-traditional erotic practices, fantasies, and behaviors that can include BDSM (Bondage, Dominance, Sadomasochism)  (Yu, 2019). Taught by Jenn Sevier, LPC, owner of Authentic Therapy Services, she also stressed that the BDSM community practices more collaborative models of consent that include acronyms such as RACK (Risk Aware Consensual Kink) and PRICK (Personal Responsibility Informed Consensual Kink); both models stress the importance of consent as not only an absence of “no,” but as an ongoing “yes” and set of negotiations before a scene begins. These practices only differ in that RACK stresses risk awareness and taking appropriate steps to address it, while PRICK emphasizes personal responsibility when deciding to engage in BDSM (Vega, 2024 ).  Upon completion of the course, I realized that kink and BDSM are neither traditionally nor exclusively sexual and have been adapted by some neurodivergent people at least partially due to a preference for a script and attention to sensory needs when exploring eroticism or touch; even the “munch,” or gatherings for those in the BDSM and kink communities, can provide a structured social setting that is more inclusive for neurodivergent people. This course demonstrated how intimacy can go beyond an exclusively sexual model and include alternative forms of connection.

We forget that intimacy can or cannot include sex, so let’s build a more expansive definition that allows every form of connection to be recognized, creating an inclusive space for everyone, and welcoming the neurodivergent, whose sensory needs may fall outside of predetermined norms.

 

Bibliography

Benjamin Meyer, L.-R. (2018, July 19). Finding the Healing Touch: How Adults with NVLD Can Effectively Articulate their Sensory Needs to their Partners, by Benjamin Meyer, LCSW. Retrieved from NVLD Project: https://nvld.org/healing-touch/

Benjamin Meyer, L.-R. (2021, June 3rd ). Different in More Ways than One: Autism Spectrum, NVLD, Asexuality, and Intersectionality. Retrieved from Benjamin Meyer, LCSW-R: https://benjaminmeyerlcsw.com/2021/06/03/different-in-more-ways-than-one-autism-spectrum-nvld-asexuality-and-intersectionality/

Silvertant, E. (2023, October 27th ). Autism and Asexuality . Retrieved from Embrace Autism : https://embrace-autism.com/autism-and-asexuality/#Asexuality_in_autistics_vs_neurotypicals

Vega, A. (2024 , April 3). S.S.C R.A.C.K and PRICK. Retrieved from Shibari Study : https://shibaristudy.com/blog/post/consent-frameworks-explained-ssc-rack-and-prick

Yu, M. (2019, June 1). How To Talk About Sex (And Consent): 4 Lessons From The Kink Community. Retrieved from NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/06/01/728398532/how-to-talk-about-sex-and-consent-4-lessons-from-the-kink-community

 

 

 

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