6 Fascinating Things I Learnt About Sex From An Autistic Person
The Debrief: From what a ‘Wartenberg wheel’ is to using a ‘violet wand’ to zap yourself to orgasm
Ever woken up in bed with a stranger, unable to locate your left leg?!
This is just one of the intimate stories told by people with disabilities – from amputees, blind and deaf folks, to wheelchair users and those who have seizures – as part of the charity Scope’s A-Z of Sex and Disability.
After research showed that just under half of the British public has never started a conversation with a disabled person, and only 5% of the bog-standard-bodied population have ever asked out or been on a date with someone with a disability, Scope decided that it was time to improve education and start conversations to end the stigma surrounding disabled people’s status as sexual beings. They’ve launched the A-Z as part of their wider End The Awkward campaign, which aims to challenge attitudes about disabilities in an open, light-hearted manner – like discussing what it’s like to get your leg over when you’ve only got one leg to lift.
Lola Phoenix is one of the participants in this latest drive. She’s on the autistic spectrum, although she’s ‘high functioning’, so she’s very intelligent and quite sociable, but says she has some ‘give-away quirks’. Lola’s autism is expressed in a multitude of different ways, some of which encompass Sensory Processing Disorder: a condition whereby her brain reacts to stimuli such as sound, touch and taste in an overwhelming, overpowering, OTT fashion.
‘Things that other people might find mildly irritating, uncomfortable or unpleasant are massively, inescapably horrible for me,’ Lola explains. ‘For example, if I bite into a slice of pizza and there’s some onion on it that’s slightly crunchier than I’m expecting, the sensation of that texture against my teeth can literally make me throw up, no matter how hungry I am. I often tear the tags out of my clothing because the faint itchiness drives me crazy, and there are umpteen pictures of me with my hands over my ears as a kid because I couldn’t cope with how panicked and jarred I’d feel in noisy places.’
However, the flipside of Lola’s situation is that she’s worked out how to use her super-sensitivity to her advantage in the bedroom – and her tips on sensory play are equally relevant to peeps who aren’t autistic. Here’s what I learned from just a brief chat – including that some guys like to inject saline solution into their gonads. BLIMEY.
1. Headphones and earplugs can be scintillating sexcessories
‘You know that bit in Bruce Almighty when Jim Carey is suddenly able to hear the prayers of everyone in the world?’ asks Lola. ‘Or that episode of Buffy where she can hear everyone’s internal monologues? That’s how I feel at parties, or in busy bars and pubs, when lots of people are talking. It’s not just the volume, it’s the sheer number of different voices and sounds that overwhelm me – I can’t filter things out.’
Lola carries earplugs at all times, so she can discreetly shut out the world’s clamour when it gets too much; and she’s discovered that these can come in handy in the bedroom, too (just don’t get your earplugs and your buttplugs mixed up). ‘Blocking out all sound can help you to concentrate on other sexual sensations, and make them feel heightened,’ she says. It also forces you to pay greater attention to your partner’s movements and body language when you can no longer communicate via speaking.
As a child, Lola was prone to ‘stimming’ – repeating tick-like movements as a way of calming herself – and ‘echolalia’ – repeating people’s words back to them, a symptom of language learning or communicative difficulties that can also be used as a self-comforting device by autistic people. ‘I’ve largely grown out of these habits, but I used to find wearing headphones a great way of masking them,’ she reveals. ‘I could disguise my stimming as me nodding my head or air-drumming in time to music, and it’s perfectly acceptable to repeat back the lyrics of songs as though you’re singing along.’
Nowadays, she listens to albums for more pleasurable reasons, but still prefers headphones over stereos because they allow her to listen to tracks without interference from other outside noises. ‘It’s like shutting yourself into your own little musical bubble,’ she says. ‘I find it a good source of escapism.’
So rather than playing your Spotify sex soundtrack out loud next time you make love or masturbate (I know you’ve got one; I know it’s got R.Kelly on it), try popping in some earbuds for a more immersive experience.
2. Learn to handle a candle
‘As well as nasty sensations feeling extra-nasty to me, nice sensations can feel extra-nice,’ explains Lola. ‘I drink loads of fizzy drinks, not so much because of the flavour, but because the bubbles on my tongue feel awesome. I wish healthy stuff like bran could be carbonated! In terms of sex, I’m pretty wild about the feeling of warm candlewax being dripped onto my skin. The ideal candles are made from paraffin wax, which melts at a relatively low temperature, so it doesn’t burn you; you should never use normal household types, as they get dangerously hot. I found some great sensory play candles recently that are coloured black, red and purple, so your partner can draw patterns on you – they have much more of a sexy visual impact than standard white varieties.’
Try these wick-ed soy wax types from Sh! – wax on, rocks off.
3. Wartenberg wheels can be a thing of wonder
‘Wartenberg wheels, or pinwheels, are little rollers covered in spikes that you roll over your body to create exciting sensations,’ Lola teaches. ‘They look scary, but they don’t pierce the skin and I’d say they’re more sensual than painful if you use them lightly, although deliberate, expected pain in a sexual context isn’t the same as, say, the shocking, unexpected pain of stubbing your toe. I wonder if you could make toe-stubbing sexy?!’
The online dukes of deviance, Uberkinky, stock a wide range of wheels. ‘I like my boyfriend to slowly move them over the crooks of my arms, my underarms, and my ribs. To me, a pinwheel feels great anywhere it hurts to be tattooed!’ comments Lola. ‘They’d probably work well on feet if you were into that, too.’
4. If you’re in London, LAM is a mint source of kinky information and inspiration
‘I’m always looking for new ways to arouse my senses, but sex toys and tools can be really expensive,’ Lola admits. ‘London Alternative Market – aka LAM – is full of stalls selling really intriguing kinky kit, and the people there will often let you try it before you buy it, plus they’ll show you how to use things properly too. It’s held on the first Sunday of every month.’
‘Last time I went, I tried a violet wand: a device that gives you tiny low current, high voltage electric shocks,’ she reveals.’If you like S&M and playing with pain, they’re a novel thing to explore. They look so beautiful, too – they glow bright lilac – although you have to know what you’re doing to be safe. People with epilepsy should steer clear as they can give you fits.’
‘I used to live in San Francisco, where there was a club called The Citadel that held “sampler nights” where different sex specialists would come give demonstrations and let you play with stuff. I saw some unusual things there, like a man who was into injecting large amounts of saline solution into his testicles with a syringe, so they swelled up huge. He liked the feeling of tightness and weight, and told me it was harmless – his body would absorb the liquid over a couple of days. It looked really extreme, though!’
5. Being clingy can be a good thing…
‘Lots of autistic people enjoy being squeezed or squashed,’ observes Lola. ‘While lighter touches and stroking can feel upsettingly tickly and squirmy, they find harder pressure on their bodies helps to centre and calm them. I like the feeling of being “hugged” by a tightly-laced corset. I also enjoy the pressure sensations of being tied up. If you’re experimenting with bondage, try to consider how tight the restraints are and how they will feel against your lover’s skin, rather than just focussing on preventing them from being able to move. I haven’t tried it myself, but I’ve heard that using cling film to bind someone’s legs together or hold their arms by their sides can feel great,’ she adds. ‘Be careful to have safety scissors nearby in case you need to cut your partner free in a hurry, and also be aware that people can get very hot inside plastic wrap.’
6. Have a safe signal as well as a safe word
‘Sometimes, if I’m overcome by sensation, I find it very hard to speak,’ Lola says. ‘This is a common autistic trait – there are even apps that allow autistic folk to quickly send a text with their location to someone they trust saying, “I’m overwhelmed and I need help to be taken out of this situation,” for moments when they’re having a meltdown but can’t verbalise it.’
‘In kinky sex, it’s good practice to have a “safe word”, which you say aloud to stop whatever’s happening if it’s getting too much for you, but when something’s getting too much for me, I’m often unable to speak. Instead, I use a safe signal, like ringing a bell or dropping a small rubber ball that I’m holding.’ This could be useful to people who tend to ‘lose themselves’ a bit during intense sex, and forget things like safe words – or if you’re using a gag.
The only time that dropping the ball in the bedroom is a good thing?!
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