Kink, BDSM and Autism & ADHD

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There’s been an ongoing conversation at the centre about the overlap between the autism spectrum detention deficit Spectrum and the BDSM community. Many of us have noticed patterns of behaviour in the Kink community that could be indicative of folk who are on these spectrums. (Folk like ME!)

We’re not the first people to be exploring this topic either, April of 2018 Boucher and Gautheir  wrote an article called “Relationships between characteristics of autism spectrum disorder and BDSM”. These researchers explored sensory perception differences and BDSM, noting that there are lots of sensory behaviours In both of these spectrums, and that these positively correlated with BDSM control behaviours. It’s an intersting read, check it out in the references below.

Social skills are also important to consider, according to these researchers, as the rules for engagement   are clearly and explicitly laid out in  BDSM tutorials, which means that folk with supposed social deficits have clear guidelines as to how to interact before, during and after engaging in BDSM. 

In 2015 Kellaher  wrote an article on sexual behaviour and autism spectrum disorders.  She noted that much of the research examining the prevalence of autistic individuals engaging in paraphilic or deviant sexual behaviours often describe behaviours that would be considered kinky but not deviant  or paraphilic if observed in neurotypical individuals. This is in line with other research on disabilities and sexuality, and that we (in society) often view individuals  with disabilities as incapable of developing adult interests, and any sexual behaviour is considered problematic. (There are millions of blog posts, vlogs, articles and research papers on the infantilism of folk with disabilities, google Disabilities and Sexuality sometime).

So as someone who has been diagnosed with ADHD and is likely also on the autism spectrum,  I’d like to explore and share my thoughts on why these things overlap.

The thing that really appealed to me when I first discovered the Kink community, is the respect for bodily autonomy that is built into the framework. When you first come into the community there are tons of workshops and mentors and information handouts even on how to negotiate the BDSM scene. you’re not supposed to touch anybody without their enthusiastic and explicit consent. And when you do engage in an activity with someone it is first talked about with an exploration of what is and isn’t okay to do and how it is going to be done. For example if you’re negotiating for bondage, you don’t just negotiate to engage in bondage but you also talk about what kind of bondage. Are we talking rope bondage? Leather cuffs? No physical bondage, but if you move we stop?(verbal bondage). What about intensity? Is this going to be slow and sensual? Painful? Are you wanting to try and escape the bondage? Or is it part of further sensual or sexual play?

Tricking someone into engaging in some sort of behaviour is frowned upon. Waiting until they’re vulnerable to add new activity is considered coercion. There are even visuals often included in the information about how to negotiate, showing a Venn diagram of the things that you want the things that you will not agree to and the other person’s things they want and they will not agree to. it’s explicit. Nothing is left to guess. You don’t have to think about eye contact, facial expressions. You use your words and those words are respected.

Created by Isaac Cross for the Colorado Center for Alternative Lifestyles

Now for anyone who’s been in the Kink Community you know that this is the ideal and not always what’s used in practice. But I’m not talking about the few folk that navigate the community in a predatory way looking for people to put that trust in them so they can diffuse it. I’m talking about consensual kink.

 it’s easy to understand why that might be appealing to someone that struggles with all the hidden, nonverbal, disingenuous social behaviours in society. to make things even better there’s communication strategies to use during the activities as well. If you start getting nervous you can just say YELLOW. And it’s immediately understood that that means you need to stop have a conversation and find out what’s going on for the person. You can say RED and everything immediately stops. If a person is hesitant and checking in with you you can say GREEN to let them know that everything is good.

There are even specific rules for the top in monitoring the body language of the individual that they’re engaging with. For example, if the person you are doing BDSM with is someone that moves around a lot and during an activity they stop moving, the top needs to stop and check in. If the bottom is someone that makes a lot of noises and they suddenly go quiet, again the top needs to stop and check in. If the bottom is typically really quiet and suddenly they’re moving around and making noises-you guessed it, the top needs to check in. The rule is that the absence of a safe word, does not mean consent.

 If only social situations were laid out so clearly! I imagine my adolescence would have been way less traumatic

Then we can add to that the different sensory tools that are used in BDSM.  Sensory plays a huge part of BDSM. Many folk will use padded restraints so that you can feel tightly bound, unable to move-yet without experiencing any pain. Some folks will use hoods and earplugs, blindfolds and even padded mittens, to limit the sensory input the person is experiencing so they can focus on one sensation being given to them by the top. This could be as simple as the sensation of nails raking over your back gently, the use of a violet wand (which creates a static type sensation), soft rabbit fur and other textures rubbed on the skin, all of which are much easier to process when it is the only sensation the bottom has to deal with.

Which brings us to Attention Deficit Disorders. These disorders have often been linked to a lack of dopamine, and are often comorbid for many folk on the autism spectrum. In 2006 Li et al., presented information regarding the association between ADHD and dopamine, showing a strong correlation between decreased dopamine levels and ADHD.  Volkow et al., 2011 noted that there is a motivation deficit in ADHD that is associated with this dopamine dysfunction.  The bulk of research so strongly supports this correlation that new medical interventions are targeting the dopamine transporter and showing success in decreasing ADHD deficits such as working memory and impulsivity (Lai et al., 2018). 

Anyone familiar with a runner’s high is going to understand better what I’m about to discuss, SubSpace (including topsapce). During BDSM activities, when there is at least 20 minutes of sensory stimulation (intense enough to not be comfortable, yet not so intense as to trigger Fight Flight Freeze), many folk experience SUBSPACE. This is when dopamine (plus other yummy neurotransmitters) flood your brain. Most of the folks I’ve talked to who experienced this during kink report this as feeling amazing. For folk with a lack of dopamine in their natural state, this can result in days or even weeks of increased productivity, creativity etc. (If you want more information on subspace, check our classes for “Your Brain On Sex”).

And then let’s add to the fact that folk on the spectrum are less likely to be interested in what Mainstream Society tells them they should or should not do. They’re already questioning the Rights and Wrongs in society.  Often from a young age folks on either of the spectrum’s will question the validity of what is normal and what is expected. This type of open-mindedness allows someone to consider alternative lifestyles such as exploring BDSM.

In short, BDSM is YUMMY for those of us that crave structure to follow, sensory control and exploration, or even just need the dopamine to function better. 

Now… For a moment I’m going to talk as a parent of an individual diagnosed with both of these disorders and another who wasn’t diagnosed (as is often the fact for those assigned female at birth), but likely fits on both of these spectrums as well. 

Raising children who are not following the neurotypical development and exploration can be very intimidating as a parent. Often they’re exploring things that are way out of our own comfort zone.  Perhaps they find fanfiction (teen fantasy fiction about pop culture characters, often including homoeroticsms and other depctions of sex, gender and relationships that are outside the mainstream norms). They might be fascinated with anime (also known for sexualizing all sorts of content). Like any other interest they develop, they become very involved in learning every aspect of whatever it is that takes their fancy. And that includes things like bondage and sensory play.

When our children begin to become a full human, which includes sexual interest, romantic proclivities and relationships (and all the variations thereof) it can be really challenging to step back as a parent and support the choices that they’re making, particularly when those choices don’t seem normal to us.  

Yet we WANT our children to grow up to be happy, whole adults with full citizenship into adulthood, no?  This INCLUDES being able to explore their sexuality and determine for themselves what relationship style works for them.  As parents, we do our young adults a great disservice when we bring our judgement and personal sexual values to the table; instead we might want to consider ensuring they have access to information on HOW to do things safely and with the respect of all those involved. 

There are consent minded, ethical groups out there, but if we force our young adults to hide what they are doing, we are adding a layer of vulnerability to them that can create an increased risk for predation.  As with any other community, the kink community does have its share of predators. The last thing we want is to place our young adult in a situation where they are more likely to engage in harmful, non-consensual activities.

I strongly recommend treating this like any other activity a loved one wants to explore.  Learn enough about it that you can be a sounding board for safety and ethical concerns.  Ensure they have access to the safety tools and information they need to explore it safely, Encourage them to research before they dive in, and help them figure out which sources of information are credible and which are not.  Remember all those books you bought your child about computer programming, dinosaurs, steam engines etc? Now is the time to find reputable books on ethical kink, ethical sex. Need a reading list? The Ethical Slut (for polyamory and kink) The Better Topping Book (for folk wanting to do bondage or spanking etc), The Better Bottoming Book (for folk want to be in bondage or spanked etc). Are they into rope bondage? Hit me up, I carry the Rope Bondage tutorial books, and I include literature on consent and negotiating. Check out our resources for downloadable PDF’s on negotiation, consent, assertive comunication, subspace etc.

It has been my experience that when we attempt to control another persons sexuality, things get worse, not better.  They will explore these sensations alone, and the riskiest kink related behaviour is autoerotic asphyxiation, which is responsible for more deaths per year than should happen 🙁   Those deaths are entirely preventable if we stopped shaming folk for wanting to experience sensations. They would be able to have a spotter (someone to make sure they are safe and don’t pass out in the example above), or to learn other, risk reduction ways of experiencing these sensations. We can shame them, but chances are they will find ways to explore their interests-and they should!! Exploring our sexual interests is part of the adult experience.

Plus, if we are already judging them they are also likely to internally stigmatize their interest, which is correlated to riskier behaviour (such as not using protection, meeting strangers, not considering their own safety or the safety of others).  The studies examining fear based versus comprehensive sex ed have shown us that shame and stigma have not ever been effective tools for controlling sexual behaviour.

I have more to say (as always), but for now I will leave it there. PS, I am a certified sex coach. If you are concerned about a loved one, reach out. I can help you recognize healthy (consensual risk reduction based) versus harmful kink behaviours and attitudes. angel@aspecc.ca

See you on the consent side of things!

Angel

References

Boucher, N., & Gaither, D. (2018). Relationships between Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder and BDSM Behaviors. Ball State University.

Dewinter, J., Van Parys, H., Vermeiren, R., & Van Nieuwenhuizen, C. (2016). Adolescent boys with an autism spectrum disorder and their experience of sexuality: An interpretative phenomenological analysis. Autism, 21(1), 75-82. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361315627134

Kellaher, D. C. (2015). Sexual behavior and autism spectrum disorders: An update and discussion. Current Psychiatry Reports, 17(4). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-015-0562-4

Lai, T. K., Su, P., Zhang, H., & Liu, F. (2018). Development of a peptide targeting dopamine transporter to improve ADHD-like deficits. Molecular Brain, 11(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13041-018-0409-0

Li, D., Sham, P. C., Owen, M. J., & He, L. (2006). Meta-analysis shows significant association between dopamine system genes and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Human Molecular Genetics, 15(14), 2276-2284. https://doi.org/10.1093/hmg/ddl152

Volkow, N. D., Wang, G., Kollins, S. H., Wigal, T. L., Newcorn, J. H., Telang, F., Fowler, J. S., Zhu, W., Logan, J., Ma, Y., Pradhan, K., Wong, C., & Swanson, J. M. (2009). Evaluating dopamine reward pathway in ADHD. JAMA, 302(10), 1084. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2009.1308

Volkow, N. D., Wang, G., Newcorn, J. H., Kollins, S. H., Wigal, T. L., Telang, F., Fowler, J. S., Goldstein, R. Z., Klein, N., Logan, J., Wong, C., & Swanson, J. M. (2010). Motivation deficit in ADHD is associated with dysfunction of the dopamine reward pathway. Molecular Psychiatry, 16(11), 1147-1154. https://doi.org/10.1038/mp.2010.97

Also Check out https://www.chronicsex.org/2018/09/bdsm-adhd/

a white person with brown hair and a white-out type of effect over their eyes with black text: "BDSM Helps Me Manage My ADHD" - middle bottom, white text "Chronic Sex"

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