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Toolkit for Autistic Adults

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Kink and BDSM

Exploring kink, BDSM, and other sexual spaces and communities  

There are aspects of kink/BDSM that may appeal to autistic people, for instance very clear and direct communication about needs and boundaries and clear and continued consent. It  offers opportunities to express and explore sensory desires, needs, interests and pleasures with like-minded people. Numerous SAAIL participants shared about their positive experiences with BDSM/Kink. This toolkit is produced by Amy Pearson and Sophie Hodgetts, they share their ground-breaking research on the topic and provide some practical tips and considerations for those interested in exploring kink. 

 

In this toolkit, Amy Pearson and Sophie Hodgetts share their research findings and provide some helpful tips and resources. 

 

What is BDSM? BDSM, bondage, domination, discipline, submission, sadism, and (sado)masochism and kink are alternative intimate practices.

 

Why is BDSM and kink an important issue? Autistic intimacy is an under-explored area, with very little focus on the lived experiences of autistic adults and their preferences. There are aspects of BDSM/kink that may appeal to autistic people (e.g. sensory experiences such being restrained during intimacy). However, to date there is very little research to explore this. This study aimed to explore the experiences and motivations of autistic people who engage in BDSM/kink from their own perspectives. 

 

What did the researchers do? We conducted online video interviews with 6 autistic adults. We purposefully recruited a small number of people, choosing to use a method called ‘interpretative phenomenological analysis’ which emphasises deep explorations of the experiences of a small number of people. This method is particularly suitable for areas where very little research exists. 

 

What were the results of the study? We found 3 key themes: Theme 1, ‘Practicing safe ‘sex’’ highlighted how the clear communication and explicit focus on consent present in BDSM/kink facilitated a feeling of safety for our participants, who found uncertainty during intimacy stressful.  The sense of safety fostered within these interactions also provided the participants with a space to be their authentic selves, and ‘switch off’ from the outside world. Theme 2, ‘So many ways to touch and be touched’ was focussed on the sensory lure of BDSM/kink, and how it provided exciting ways to explore sensory joy (and sometimes revulsion) for autistic people. Theme 3 ‘Subverting (neuro)normativity’ showed how autistic people can find pleasure in intimate practices which other people might find unusual. 

 

Strengths and weaknesses: To our knowledge, this is the first study to explore autistic engagement in BDSM/kink from a first person perspective. Our findings show that some alternative ways of being intimate might attract autistic people, because they provide stability, pathways for sensory exploration, or because they are fun in ways that other people sometimes find unexpected.  

 

However, we only interviewed a small number of people, and most of them shared similar interests within BDSM/kink. In future it would be good to find out about the interests of a larger number of autistic people.  

 

Important takeaways: There is very little research exploring autistic intimacy from a validating perspective. Our findings will help to destigmatise autistic intimacy and normalise conversations about things that people might think of as ‘taboo’.  


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slides to "
Comforting, reassuring and...hot": A qualitative  exploration of engaging in BDSM and kink from the perspectives of autistic adults 

Read the full journal article: “Comforting, reassuring, and…hot”: A qualitative exploration of engaging in BDSM and Kink from the perspective of autistic adults

Abstract Background: There is a lack of research on autistic intimacy, however a small body of research suggests that BDSM (bondage, domination, discipline, submission, sadism, and (sado)masochism)/kink may be appealing to autistic people. We aimed to explore how engagement in BDSM/kink related to autistic identity, using a phenomenological approach. Method: We recruited 6 autistic adults through purposive sampling on social media. All participants took part in a one-to-one spoken interview about their engagement in BDSM/kink and how it related to their sense of identity. Results: We used Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis to analyse the data and found 3 key themes. Theme 1, ‘Practicing safe ‘sex’’ highlighted how the clear communication and explicit focus on consent present in BDSM/kink facilitated a feeling of safety. Theme 2, ‘So many ways to touch and be touched’ was focussed on the sensory draw of BDSM/kink, and how it provided exciting ways to explore sensory joy (and sometimes revulsion). Theme 3 ‘Subverting (neuro)normativity’ showed how autistic people can find pleasure in intimate practices which transgress normative expectations. Conclusion: Our findings highlighted the importance of exploring the perceptions of autistic adults in relation to their own intimate practices. Autistic intimacy is an emerging area of research, with very little focus on lived experience. Whilst engagement in BDSM/kink may appear niche, our findings suggest that there are aspects which are inherently appealing to autistic people. These findings can be used to destigmatise both autistic intimacy, and engagement in alternative intimate practices more broadly. Dowloand full article: https://osf.io/dthr3/

Helpful tips for people considering exploring kink

  • One of the cornerstones of kink is consent: if you meet someone in person or online, and they immediately start engaging with you in a sexual manner without asking, this is a bad sign. You do not have to do anything that someone else tells you to unless you really want to. 

  • Meeting people who have the same sexual interests as you can be really exciting, but this can be overwhelming and make us more likely to say yes to things we aren’t sure of. Some people say that they can become ‘frenzied’ when they first start engaging in kink, and can become really focussed on trying more new things, or upping the intensity very quickly. Remember you have time to explore at your own pace, and don’t let anyone pressure you.  

  • Make sure to keep yourself safe. You do not have to share your real name or personal information with anyone if you don’t want to. Lots of people use different names in the kink scene to remain anonymous and keep their personal and public lives separate. 

  • If you attend an event, try to find out about the etiquette prior to attending. Is there a dress code? Are there certain areas that are generally private? Do they have a quiet space to relax if things get overwhelming? Contacting the organiser and carefully reading the event listing can help you to work out what might happen on the day.  The organiser is also the person to speak to if someone acts inappropriately towards you at an event (though some events may also have monitors depending on the event type).  

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Resources

Sexual inventories and tests to find out more about your own interests:  

 

Finding a kink friendly counsellor:

Places to meet people online: fetlife 

 

 

Tips for fetlife: 

If you want to create a fetlife profile, you can share information about yourself, your interests and your general location (if you feel comfortable). Like facebook you can ‘add’ friends, or ‘follow’ people with shared interests. Sometimes people will share information about local events and meetups (sometimes known as ‘munches’) in the ‘events’ tab where kinky people meet up to make friends and talk. Some of these are kinky events (e.g. parties that might involve sexual activity), and some of them are not (even though they are full of kinky people), and may be at a café or pub.  

 

You can also join groups for finding people with shared interests (kinky or otherwise). The ‘novices and newbies’ section is a good place to start.  

 

Additional social media: 

 

r/BDSMAdvice is a great source of information and advice  

https://www.reddit.com/r/BDSMAdvice/ 

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