Sexual Innuendo and the Autistic Mind – A Match Made in Confusion

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(Now that I have your attention, there’s something we need to talk about.)

I did a video about this once, but I feel it needs to be a post, too. There’s so much about this topic to cover, but, for this post, I’ll keep it PG and non-triggery (or at least I hope it won’t trigger anyone).

I don’t know about you, but sex confuses the living crap out of me. I don’t mean the act itself, I get where the parts go, but the “dance” of it all absolutely baffles me!

I can’t speak for any other autistic person except for myself, so I’ll just tell you what I struggle with, and you can share (if you’re comfortable) the struggles you face with dating, sex, and relationships.

1) I don’t have a clue when someone is flirting with me.

I mean…I kind of do now that I’ve had a few decades to figure it out, but it’s still easier for me to tell online and in writing than it is in person.

Somebody looking me up and down or smiling a certain way does clue me in now, but if it’s anything subtle, forget it. Heck, even overt stuff can go right over my head.

Also, I really try not to look at other people when I’m in public. I don’t want to make eye contact with anyone lest they think I’M flirting with THEM, or I’m giving them a dirty look.

Either way, nope. Too many variables. Head down, grab stuff, pay, leave.

2) If I like you, I’ll bowl you over with it.

And that’s the thing, too. If I DO like you, I come on WAY too strong. I’m like a tidal wave. Subtle is not something I’m capable of.

It’s almost like it’s mating season, and I’m running on hormones alone.

3) If I’m not interested, I get really uncomfortable.

But if I’m not interested, I am NOT interested. Go away! I literally have no idea what to do when somebody is showing what I translate as interest of some kind other than freeze or take flight. I honestly feel threatened almost every time.

4) There are so many euphemisms for sex!!

Again, I know most of them now from experience, but God help younger ND people and those inexperienced at dating. I think most of us can agree that, “Hi, I find you attractive and would like to copulate with you” is a very un-sexy way of trying to entice someone into bed. But, hey, at least it’s very direct!

I find most people are subtle about attraction, which is probably for the best, or we might all be heathens just mating in the streets (I dunno).

But, sometimes, it’s TOO subtle.


“Would you like to go out for a cup of coffee?” translates to, “Would you like to go on a date?”

“Can I buy you a drink?” translates to, “Can I sit down, talk to you, and flirt with you for a while because I find you attractive?”

“Do you want to come upstairs for a drink?” translates to, “Would you like to come upstairs and have sex?”

“Would you like a night cap?” also translates to, “Would you like to come upstairs and have sex?”

“Netflix and chill” translates to, “Let’s have sex under the guise of watching movies, but we really don’t watch anything and just have sex.”

4) There are TONS of non-verbal cues, too!

Never mind the subtle words, there are also TONS of non-verbal cues that NT (and probably some ND) people give off, too. A look up and down, a smile with one corner of the mouth upturned, eyes that narrow slightly, looking into eyes (Oh, God!), leaning closer, looking at lips, glancing at someone’s crotch, someone opening their legs (usually a male-identified person) with clothes on to indicate that they are available for mating. I’m sure there’s a ton I’m missing!

5) You can “accidentally” ask for sex and confuse or hurt another person’s feelings.

Autistic people use body language and facial expressions differently. Plus, we mask AND we emulate behavior to fit in with others and, more importantly, to not be attacked by others who can instinctively sense that we are “different” somehow.

Think of the ND person who prefers to look at lips when they are speaking to someone or listening to either avoid eye contact or better understand what the person is saying.

(Looking at lips could look like you want to kiss the person.)

How about the ND person who twirls their hair?

(Hair-twirling is a common flirting technique.)

The ND person who giggles nervously all the time?

(Another common flirting technique, especially straight cis women with straight cis men.)

The ND person who is actually over-touchy instead of touch-averse (I’m that person)?

(Depending on who you touch and how, it could mean you want to have sex.)

The ND person whose favorite sensory experience is putting something in their mouth?

(This could be seen as a subtle indicator that you’d like to engage in oral sex.)

The ND person who thinks nothing of inviting someone over to hang out, drink coffee, watch movies, etc., but neglected to understand that this could be taken as code for wanting to have sex?

The ND person who isn’t shy about their body or nudity in general, or wears clothes based on temperature and doesn’t realize they may be sending a signal that they’d like to remove ALL their clothes and have sex?

The ND person who puts on a romantic or sexual movie around a new person because they like one aspect of the movie, but never thought of it in a sexual context (done that), and sends what someone perceives as “let’s have sex” signals?

I could probably go on, but this post is getting pretty lengthy as it is.

I don’t have any answers for this one. I think reading, researching, studying others, etc., is a good way to learn more about subtle sexual innuendo, but it can still backfire.

I learned the hard way. We do need to eventually talk about how incredibly dangerous it is for ND people (especially young women and gender non-binary people) to not understand sexual cues and innuendo, but I want to keep this conversation lighter.

When I and if I do address that topic, I’ll put trigger warnings all over the place.

The best way to improve communication with your autistic loved one is to understand how your autistic loved one’s mind works! Intentions, motivations, and personal expressions (facial expressions or lack thereof, body language, etc.), are often quite different in autistic people than they are in neurotypical people.

Experience a better understanding of your autistic loved one by reading books about life from an autistic perspective as well as stories that feature autistic characters. You’ll have so many “Ah ha!” moments and start seeing your autistic loved one in a different light (and you’ll have a better understanding of their behaviors, which you may have been misinterpreting up until now).

Books I recommend for a better understanding of your autistic loved one:

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5 Responses

  1. Robin says:

    Wow, there is so much to relate to here. I am quite old now, so no one really thinks I’m flirting with them anymore (thank heavens). Did I ever get flirting, NO! Am I the full on, touchy-feely type when I like someone, YES! But I am also demisexual and sapiosexual, I REALLY need to feel a strong trusting relationship with someone before I will even begin to fancy them. I’m also hard of hearing, so I am constantly looking at your mouth (reading lips). Nightmare!

  2. Robin says:

    This is my first post here, and I have had to work up a lot of courage to do it (typical me). I am commenting because I sincerely appreciate your work. If, however, I express myself badly, please feel free to tell me. As a good Autistic, I don’t mind.

  3. Anita says:

    Wow. Holy fork am I autistic. That’s what this is making me realize. I have missed literally SO many signals over the course of my life, which looking back now is a tad bit silly. I am so grateful to have these resources and translations, I just wish I had understood them more to be able to prevent some situations that came in my life.

  1. May 5, 2020

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  2. December 15, 2021

    […] Sexual Innuendo and the Autistic Mind – A Match Made in Confusion Autistic People Often Misread Sexual Cues […]

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