Journal Club: Asexuality and the autism spectrum

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This month, the ace journal club discussed

“Brief Report: Asexuality and Young Women on the Autism Spectrum”, by Hillary H. Bush, Lindsey W. Williams, and Eva Mendes (2020). https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10803-020-04565-6 (requires journal access)

The journal club meets once a month on Discord, using text or voice as club members prefer. We discuss a variety of academic works in ace studies, ranging from gender studies to psychology. Don’t worry about journal access, we can provide access. If you’re interested, please e-mail me at asexualagenda@gmail.com for an invite.

Our discussion notes are below the fold.


Summary
This study investigated the demographics, sexual identity, and other characteristics of autistic women and nonbinary people. One third were on the ace spectrum, and these people reported less sexual desire and sexual behavior, and greater sexual satisfaction.

In academic context
Gilmour 2012 found that women with ASD were more likely to be sexual minorities than men with ASD. This paper was previously reported on by Queenie, who identified numerous problems, including adherence to the extreme male brain theory of autism.
– Another study was George & Stokes 2018, which Bush et al. criticize for negative theorizing about asexuality (e.g. claiming that people with ASD are more likely to be asexual because of greater social anxiety).
– Bush et al. is interested in replicating previous studies, and does so without the problems of previous work.
– We also discussed other citation choices. It’s still very common to cite Bogaert 2004. There was also a citation to a 2017 review paper by Brotto & Yule, to say that asexuality is not a sexual disorder, but that might be a paper for another month.

Interesting results
– The survey found that ace participants were younger than non-ace participants (mean 22.5 years vs 23.6 years)
– They were much more likely to be nonbinary (59% vs 44%)
– They were also much more likely to live with their parents (50% vs 36%). The paper hints that this may be mediated by nonbinary gender identity, and we speculated that it might be mediated by partnered relationships or age.
– Among autistic aces, 81% used pornography, and we were comparing that to the Ace Community Survey—but the difference may not be statistically significant, since the study only had 88 autistic aces.

Anxiety
– The paper had the interesting finding that aces with ASD had lower levels of generalized anxiety than non-aces with ASD. This contrasts with the finding in the general population, where aces have elevated levels of anxiety compared to non-aces.
– This is based on the GAD-7, a simple 21-point scale. Autistic aces scored about 1-2 points higher than autistic non-aces.
– Some of us were skeptical of the finding, so we were discussing possible confounding factors. For instance, results can be affected by priming, e.g. asking about demographics before asking about anxiety. Age is another potential confounding factor.

Terminology
– It was generally agreed that this paper had fewer things to nitpick than usual, but we still found things to talk about in the choices of terminology
– The paper uses “gray-ace”, which we found unusual for an academic paper and neat.
– They also referred to the asexual spectrum, although through much of the paper they use “asexual” as synecdoche.
– “Gray-asexual” is defined as “rarely experiencing sexual desire”. A better definition might be “rarely, weakly, ambiguously, or conditionally experiencing sexual attraction”, or just “having a gray-area relationship with asexuality”. We discussed how in psychology, they’re less willing to provide a vague definition even if it’s closer to how it’s used.
– We don’t like “gender diverse” as a way to refer to nonbinary people.
– The paper also used “relationship” in a way that implied a particular kind of relationship. We proposed “partnership” as an alternative.
– The paper uses “ASD”, short for “autism spectrum disorder”. This is standard in psychology, but not standard among activists.
– We talked a bit about “person first” language, which in some cases is considered the standard, but some activists have a conflicting standard. Jim Sinclair, who figures in early ace history is known for arguing against person first language.

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
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2 Responses to Journal Club: Asexuality and the autism spectrum

  1. ettinacat says:

    “The paper had the interesting finding that aces with ASD had lower levels of generalized anxiety than non-aces with ASD. This contrasts with the finding in the general population, where aces have elevated levels of anxiety compared to non-aces.”

    That makes sense. The dating scene is very stressful for autistic people, and aces are probably less likely to bother with dating. Especially if they’re also aro. I don’t have access to read the article, but I’m guessing that they didn’t distinguish sexual and romantic orientation, and we know that aroaces are a large proportion of aces.

    • Siggy says:

      IIRC, they didn’t ask about romantic orientation, but some people volunteered their romantic orientation anyway, and it was mentioned in the paper as a possible factor.

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