Originally posted 7-1-08.
Quick warning in case you got here by accident or misunderstanding. This article rather directly handles a particular sexual issue related to autism spectrum disorders. This is not porn, slash, or erotica.
Self stim is a nice euphamism for sex stim. “Stim”, in this sense, is repetitive neurological stimulation, which is usually enacted to ease sensory overload in autistic kids. Stim is any repetitive motion or sensory stimulation, sex or self stim involves using the genitalia for this purpose. Sex stim is not automatically an issue with all autism related cases, and it could be an issue with other challenges, so this is a general post for anyone looking for more on sex stim to see if they are normal, which I did a few months ago and found basically *nothing*. I think people are point blank afraid to talk about it. Perhaps this is an extremely tender subject in a politically correct atmosphere full of internet porn and child molestation and rape and therefore not openly discussed, who knows. Again, to be clear, this article is based on my experiences with Asperger’s syndrome and is in no way related to being sexually abused in any way, or to abusing children.
I first heard the words “self stim” when I babysat an autistic girl while her mom went to college classes. She didn’t discuss it except to let me know it was normal for these kids to do this, and not to worry about it, as long as she wasn’t hurting herself. This little girl was seven years old, nonverbal, and virtually unresponsive to interaction. At this time I was in my mid 20′s. I babysat this girl for a couple of years and have nothing else pertinent to relay here. I was uninterested in whether she self stimmed or not. The hardest part was getting her to eat.
I myself was a self stimmer as a child. Back in the ‘old days’ I’m sure that was pretty awful, my rather uptight religious mom especially being horrified and embarrassed over almost every little thing I did. But I was not clearly diagnostically autistic, and I remember one old doctor telling my mom she was a bad mother when she asked him about the constant ‘masturbating’, which in the 1960′s was a very taboo subject. I was around 5. My mom cried all the way home. I look back now and see she went through some very disturbing psychological scarring over the lack of knowledge and info that we have nowadays as we are learning more about the autism spectrum.
I’ve mentioned a few times in other posts that I had very little or no self awareness as a child. I did not relate my actions to consequences, and I especially didn’t realize that other people’s behaviors toward me had anything to do with my own behavior. So you can imagine the confusion I went through in kindergarten and first grade and on and on as I very gradually became ‘awake’ to social interaction. But in the meantime, I self stimmed every chance I got because I was miserably nervous and high strung, and looking back, I don’t recall ever seeing any other child in school doing this. I can see now why my kindergarten and first grade teachers begged my mother to get me to a psychiatrist, along with other obvious behavioral problems.
I’d like to differentiate sex stimming from masturbating. It’s not really the same thing, as far as I can tell. A stim of any kind is more of an impulse to relieve overstimulation in the brain. Masturbation is a conscious decision to pursue pleasure or relieve a discomfort, kind of like deciding what to have for lunch. When it comes to sex stim, I’m sure it’s difficult not to think of the two as the same thing, but since I have done both, I think I can verbalize now what that difference is to people who have never experienced the urgent need to stim in any way. I talk more about general stimming in my post ‘stimming at work’ and how difficult it is for the public in general to understand the sheer need to ‘fidget’, as it used to be called. Stim is very calming, self stim is pure nirvana, and both are usually done almost unconsciously or automatically, whereas masturbation is a very conscious act and carries its own baggage of uber self awareness. And that’s the difference. Self stim isn’t consciously embarrassing unless someone makes it so, because the person doing it is going through an automatic response to sensory overload in the brain. As a person on the autism spectrum gets older and realizes there are social sexual issues tied up in self stimming, it becomes a sacred hidden part of ourselves that has to be rigidly controlled, because otherwise we would be ‘bad’ people. And please don’t assume from this that anyone with Asperger’s needs to self stim all the time. I know some people are bad for making leaps of assumption and generalizations that aren’t true in the least, so read this line- I am NOT saying everyone with an autism spectrum disorder goes through this. So don’t look at some guy or chick you just found out has Asperger’s and go, oh…. That’s the bad part of sharing this kind of stuff, many people mistake it for something else and run with MISinformation. Maybe that’s why we’re not openly talking about it… And it’s quite possible I’m a little deeper on the spectrum than some, and this may be a more unique experience than I think it is, and I may actually be bridging a gap between nonverbals and normals who merely observe autistic self stim in children. I really don’t know. But I do think it’s an important issue that needs to be addressed for the emotional health of those who have gone through self stim and waking up to self awareness and having to sort it all out.
As a child, I never once thought of self stim as a concept, much less an activity to share with anyone. I didn’t think “That feels good, I’m going to do it.” When I discovered swing set poles in kindergarten, I simply left this world and was violently ripped back into it by the faculty or staff and carried back into the classroom. I have never in my adult life experienced sexual gratification that even came close to what I experienced as a child doing self stim, whether I am having sex with someone or masturbating. There is such a difference in my brain that I can’t even think of self stim as sex. From the harshness of childhood and the terrified responses from adults around me, yes, I learned it’s a private thing, and I learned to hide it so I wouldn’t be cruelly picked on or punished, but it took years to even learn that. That’s how lacking in self awareness I was. By second grade I had some idea that I could probably avoid some of the social suffering I went through, but it was several more years before I understood why.
The ’60s were a time of schism between a new culture of ‘free love’ and very uptight mainstream religion, and guess which parents I got. I had no idea what the word sex even meant until the 5th grade, and had no idea beyond watching farm animals what it was for. By the time I was in middle school I still had no idea the kids around me not only knew what sex was, but were already having abortions. I was completely oblivious to the world of sexuality, yet privately I still self stimmed almost constantly on bad days. It was all I could do to hide it from everyone, and believe me, the impulses were irrational and overwhelming. I was a slave to it as much as any person is to addiction. That’s the hard thing about self stim, it does become quite addicting as a nirvana escape for emotional overload, and I was one of the unlucky ones who went through constant haranguing and punishment for a number of trivial behaviors that most people now think is normal kid behavior.
I’m not going to go beyond that into more details. Too many people get off on details. But oddly, and this is key to understanding who I am, I am actually asexual. I am married, I have sex with my husband, but I’m not sexually attracted to other people, and I have a great deal of difficulty sharing myself sexually. It has nothing to do with the self stim. It is because I’m naturally antisocial and my senses are extremely heightened. I tense very easily over new smells, loud noises, light flickering, and personal space. It took me a long time to be ok with shaking hands, and even longer to learn I can hug people when they come at me for a hug, so imagine living with a social deficit and trying to be a sexual person. I find it nearly impossible. I do like Scott, however, and think he’s the bomb, my best friend in the whole world for nearly 18 years now, so I’m ok with him, and he’s fine with me being me. Some people might think it’s weird, but frankly, neither one of us is very good at romance, and I already suck at eye contact and special moments, so it’s more like being silly and having fun, which I really like. But I could never do that with anyone else. When I was young and running around, I drank a little with other kids and fooled around, but if it hadn’t been for the alcohol, it wouldn’t have been possible for me at all.
So I’m going through my midlife thing, looking back on all my stuff and getting it all sorted out, and thinking I can’t *possibly* be the only person who has gone through this self stim mess and all the angst that has come with it. And I bet there are other people out there who would love to find out there are other people like them, as well, and so I’m putting it out there. If you googled ‘sex stim’ and arrived here at this blog post, hello, you’re normal. I validate you. It’s ok.
And for parents of kids like me who are trying to figure out how to handle the whole self stim thing– just tell them to keep it in their room and shut the door. That’s all you have to do. Simply put, it’s personal, it’s down time for an overloaded kid, and quiet time for you, so walk away. And protect them from other people taking advantage of their unawareness. Too many children are sexually abused already. Never assume other people around you don’t find it stimulating and blow it off. Protect your kids. Gently teach them what privacy is for. Let them know that everyone has to leave them alone while they do that, so they know it’s not right to be taken advantage of. Our bodies are our own.