Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Abbey Eisenhower

Second Advisor

Heidi Levitt

Third Advisor

Laurel Wainwright


Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) – characterized by deficits in social interaction and communication, and restricted and repetitive behaviors, interests, and activities –increasingly are being diagnosed in individuals of all ages. However, as children on the autism spectrum enter adolescence, self-report research on ASD and sexuality is currently limited to 14 empirical, peer-reviewed articles, misconceptions are prevalent, and professionals remain underequipped to support their sexuality needs. The goal of the current study was to expand the current knowledge base by exploring multiple aspects of sexuality (including relationship and family status, gender identity, sexual history, sexual orientation, sexual desire, sex education exposure, sexual behavior, sexual satisfaction, sexual victimization, and sexual awareness) and well-being (including symptoms of ASD, sensory sensitivity, depression, anxiety, and social anxiety) in a sample of 18-30 year old women with and without ASD. To capture a wide range of experiences, female-bodied individuals with more fluid gender identities (e.g., agender, genderqueer) and transfeminine women were invited to participate too. Overall, 248 individuals with ASD and 179 individuals without ASD (N = 427) self-reported on their experiences by completing a 20-minute online survey. Results showed a wide range of sexuality-related identities and experiences among women with ASD. Of note, a surprisingly high percentage of participants with ASD reported having a genderfluid identity, a sexual minority identity, and at least one lifetime incidence of sexual victimization. When compared to a non-ASD sample, participants on the autism spectrum reported higher levels of gender fluidity, sexual minority identity, and sexual victimization, and lower levels of romantic partnerships, sexual desire, sexual behavior, sex education exposure, and sexual awareness, including consciousness and monitoring; participants in both groups reported comparable levels of sexual satisfaction. Relations across sexuality-related variables, and between sexuality-related and non-sexuality-related variables, within the ASD and comparison groups also were assessed and many significant correlations were observed. The discussion focuses on how these findings expand the current knowledge base, and how they might inform the work of researchers and clinicians, and support the romantic partners, family members, and friends involved in the lives of young people with ASD.