The Other Autism

Why Are Autistic People More Likely to Be Non-Monogamous?

July 07, 2023 Kristen Hovet Season 3 Episode 1
The Other Autism
Why Are Autistic People More Likely to Be Non-Monogamous?
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Let's delve into an under-discussed topic — the intersection of autism and non-monogamy. I talk about the differences between polyamory and open relationships, and challenge the stereotype that autistic individuals are incapable of or uninterested in sexual relationships. Drawing from research and personal experiences, I discuss why autistic individuals are more inclined towards non-monogamous relationships.

If you'd like to know more about topics discussed in this episode, check out:

"Neurodiversity and Relationship Variation: Why Some With Autism or ADHD Are Drawn to Consensual Nonmonogamy and/or BDSM" by Elisabeth A. Sheff

"Polyamory vs. an Open Relationship: What's the Difference?" by Emma Singer

"An Exploration of Why Autistic Adults Are Practicing Consensual Non-Monogamy" by Janet Walsh and Mark Stokes

"I'm Autistic and Polyamorous. Here's Why It Works for Me" by Leanne Yau

The Letters of Abelard and Heloise translated by Betty Radice

Episode outro music: "Go to Hell" by Mindme 

Theme music: "Everything Feels New" by Evgeny Bardyuzha.

All episodes written and produced by Kristen Hovet.

To submit a question to possibly be answered in a future episode, please email

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Buy me a coffee!


Hello and welcome to season three. I realize I was only going to take a couple of weeks off between seasons, but here we are it's July. I've literally had zero time between work and school and volunteering and life stuff, and I also decided to put out a survey to ensure I'm on the right track for this season. That survey was prompted, autism style, by a night of insomnia where my brain decided to outline all the possible ways that this podcast might suck or annoy listeners. But before I give a brief overview of the survey results, I wanted to share some updates. Between seasons I completed some major assignments for this semester of my Master of Health Studies degree. Thi s is my second to last semester and also happens to be the heaviest semester of my program. I also moved to the interior of my province. I'm in British Columbia, Canada, and everyone who's not from Canada seems to think the moment you cross the line from the US into Canada it's all snow and polar bears. Well, I've never seen a polar bear in my life, at least I don't think I have, maybe in a zoo, not sure. And the south of British Columbia, especially near the coast, is quite temperate and summers are generally far hotter than even many areas in California that I've spent lots of time in, like San Francisco. Where I am now in the interior in the Okanagan, it's actually considered a desert climate. And some days are on par with Scottsdale, Arizona, where I spent part of my childhood. Super hot in the summer. However, unlike most of Arizona, it's cold and snowy in the winter, so there's some cool seasons going on. You still get that change in seasons. I actually took some archaeology classes in university and learned that this area was once a jungle. True story and there are many dinosaur and jungly plant fossils to prove it. Ok, so the survey. I laughed out loud at the results for the music question, in particular, which was, do you think the intro music, typically played after the today we're talking about announcement, should be kept the same length, shortened, lengthened, or removed? About half of you want me to keep the introductory music as is, while about half of you want me to reduce or remove it. Then there are about 5% of you who want more of that music, as in, you want that section lengthened. All told, I'm going to err on the side of caution and remove that extra music so as not to annoy around half of you. I'm clearly jonesing for music in my life, and so I've actually started another project altogether that involves music. More on that sometime later. Although half of you probably don't care. In terms of other survey results, almost all of you like equally the interview episodes and the lecture episodes where it's just me talking, so I'm going to continue as is in that department. This season does start out with a few back-to-back interview episodes, at least that's what I have planned, but I will get back to the lecturey episodes very shortly following those, or I might kind of intersperse the lecturey ones with the interview ones, depending how the schedule goes. I've got an interview with a late diagnosed autistic adult for you coming up, and then one with a neurodivergent occupational therapist, and then one with a therapist who's discovering her own potential neurodivergence. She's right there in the thick of it, and part of the content she stumbled on included the accompanying website to this very podcast. I can't wait for you to hear those interviews and super excited for the other guests I've also got planned for this season. Now to get a bit serious for a second, I wanted to talk about something very important as a reminder to listeners as we start season three and as we grow as a community of listeners. This podcast has grown exponentially. It's grown far more quickly than I could ever have expected, which I am so, so grateful for. I'm getting goosebumps just saying this. It's blown my mind. The growth is due in large part to all of you. You share episodes with family, with friends, and even with doctors and therapists. You rate and review the podcast. You talk about it on social media and in forums. I want to say a massive thank you. This podcast couldn't be where it is today without you. But with more listeners comes more emails, and I'm still a one person plus one cat show, and the one cat doesn't do much of anything. So anyway, I've noticed a matching massive increase in the number of emails I receive. Now I love getting emails from you. Love, love, love, love, love. I would say most of you write in to say thank you, to share a bit of your own story, to tell me the ways that the podcast has helped you, and I am moved to tears very, very often. You also send in questions or topics you'd like to see covered in future episodes. So a lot of what I talk about here, even the guests that I bring on are often inspired directly from the emails that I compile and save and take notes on. But I've also noticed an increase in emails asking for direct advice and even help, and sometimes the tone is urgent, where it's clear the individual writing to me is in full blown crisis mode. I wanted to let you know that I am deeply impacted by these emails and feel very strongly that I wish I could do something to make things better for you, something more than just sending an email with some links or some suggestions that I have off the top of my head. I wanted to say that I've been where you are more times than I can count. And please know that I'm reading and hearing you. However, I wanted to remind listeners that I'm not a mental health practitioner. For this reason, I cannot give mental health help or advice. I can give you links to other places you can go to seek those things, but I'm no longer, like, it's just not something I can do anymore. Just given the volume, I'm no longer able to even reply to a lot of the emails when it comes to folks asking for help. I get also a lot of emails asking for recommendations on who to see for assessments or therapy or general advice in that department. Please understand that if I continue to do this, it could very well become a full-time job. For my own health and well-being and for the longevity of this podcast, as one person writing and producing it on top of having a full-time job and being in school, I simply cannot continue to do this at this time. I do, however, continue to read and save every single email I receive. I treasure these and take every word to heart. Like I said before, your emails are building this podcast every step of the way. If you'd find it helpful, please let me know, you can do so through email, link is in the show notes, or through Instagram. If you find this helpful, I could put a post on my website about who diagnosed me and some general high level advice when seeking an adult assessment. Otherwise, you can find this information spread throughout earlier episodes of this podcast, either content about my own experience or the experiences that many of my guests share, and you can also turn to searching online or visiting forums, where sometimes the information is broken down regionally, where you can go and search forum posts by place. Due to changes brought about by COVID, many psychologists who conduct autism assessments are still providing assessments virtually, so definitely take advantage of this. Keep in mind, however, that generally speaking, as far as I know, in most places in the world, the assessor will need to be licensed in your province or state if you want the diagnosis to be official and recognized by your state or provincial government. Also, a word about the Instagram account that goes along with this podcast. It's called Other Autism Podcast, all one word. Thank you to those who followed. I realize I'm not very active on there right now, but I do have plans to become more active as soon as my last semester is over in December. I will have a bit more time and I have lots of ideas for reels and other content. Adorably, in the survey, someone asked to hear from my cat, Toby, more often, so I'll see what I can do there. He's not always a willing participant and sometimes he's way too involved. I'll try to strike a balance with my co-host, Toby Tobias Toberton, the first and only. Someone also suggested that I include transcripts with each episode. I actually have been including transcripts and you can find those on Buzzsprout. The link to the Buzzsprout website for The Other Autism will be in the show notes. I also wanted to thank the newest sponsors of the show, Suzanne, Health, and Carolyn. Thank you so, so much. And if you would like to become a sponsor yourself and help keep this podcast going and growing, there are links in the show notes that say support the show or become a supporter of the show for as little as $3 a month. Okay, now to get to the non-monogamy part of this episode. No, the title was not clickbait, I'm really going to talk about non-monogamy. This topic came from both listener suggestions and from me listening to an episode called Neurodivergence and Sex with Talisin Switch from the Neurodivergent Woman podcast. I listened to this episode between the break between season two and three, and in this episode they mentioned that autistic and other neurodivergent folks make up a huge portion, if not a majority, of non-monogamous or polyamorous communities. My ears perked up when I heard this, so I decided to do some digging, and indeed it is as they say. Curious. While there aren't many studies looking at this topic directly, there are a few, as well as many, many anecdotal accounts, including clinical accounts from mental health professionals, about the strong overlap they've noticed between neurodivergence, neuroqueer identities, and relationship variation, including various forms of non-monogamy, especially polyamory, where a person often has one primary romantic relationship. For example, this may be the person they spend the most time with and or live with, and one or more additional romantic relationships, sometimes called secondary relationships. Polyamorous relationships are usually sexual, but they aren't always. Polyamorous relationships differ from other forms of non-monogamy in that polyamorous relationships involve the informed consent of all partners. It's not swinging, it's not cheating, it's not sleeping around, it's not one-night stands. It's ethical or consensual non-monogamy. In polyamory, the focus is on the relationships, the love bonds, the emotional connections, and less on sex. Interestingly, polyamory differs from open relationships. In open relationships, a couple usually agrees that having sex with other people is okay, and they may or may not agree to inform each other of any encounters they might have with others. In open relationships, the emphasis is on the sexual aspect of these additional encounters. Emma Singer, in an article about the differences and similarities between polyamory and open relationships, writes, quote, both relationship styles represent a rejection of the more traditional monogamous coupling in favor of a less constricting experience of romance. It's also worth noting that in both polyamorous and open relationships, unhealthy power dynamics shouldn't be present and boundaries must be discussed and mutually agreed upon before the arrangement is underway and consistently thereafter, lest it turn into a not-so-ethical non-monogamous situation, end quote. Before I go any further, I want to address a strange myth about autistic people, and that is the myth that autistic people aren't sexual or don't have romantic and or sexual relationships or needs or desires. While autistics are indeed more likely to report being asexual, they're also more likely to report having sex and actually having having sex as a special interest. So just saying. A nywho, what we can gather from this is that autistics are more likely to report sexual variation in general than non-autistics. Also, research has found that autistic people want and benefit from a variety of relationships to a similar, if not same degree, as non-autistic people. These relationships include platonic aka friendship-based, romantic, physical, sexual you know all the kinds of relationships. Also, in recent research and anecdotal accounts, as I've mentioned earlier, autistic folks are more likely to report being in polyamorous or otherwise non-monogamous relationships. Why is this? There are many theories as well as accounts written by autistic people telling us why they prefer non-monogamy over monogamy. Here are some reasons which I will number, but these are listed in no particular order. Number one autistics are far more likely than non-autistics to identify as LGBTQIA+, and this community has historically been more involved in non-monogamy than heterosexuals. What your peers are involved with, you are more likely to be involved with, or at least learn more about, simply by association. Also, when you're surrounded by people exploring sexuality and gender identity, this tends to lead to increased awareness of these topics and greater chance of wondering about these things for yourself. Number two autistics, especially female autistics, some experts have noted, tend to be more likely to stay in long-term relationships that no longer serve them. And so non-monogamy for some of these folks becomes a way to explore new relationships and new romantic or sexual connections outside of their primary relationship, which they may retain because that's what they know and are comfortable with and or as a way to avoid causing pain to their primary partner. I can definitely relate to this one. More on that later. Number three many of those who prefer non-monogamy state that they love having autonomy over their living space and full control of their schedule. They prefer to come and go as they please, so not having one partner or being a secondary partner is conducive to this type of lifestyle, or at least tends to be. Number four autistic folks are more likely to challenge societal conventions in general than non-autistic folks, and of course that includes relationship conventions. This seems built into our DNA in many ways to question conventions, to challenge the conventions of society, just in all different facets, all different levels and ways. It just seems like how our brains work, I don't know. Also, ethical or consensual non-monogamy involves a series of agreements and clear expectations, making such arrangements comforting and very in line with how our brains tend to work. It should be noted in all this that being autistic doesn't mean the person's automatically into non-monogamy. We're just as diverse and as varied as non-autistics, maybe even more so, so you really can't build any preconceived ideas just from knowing our neurotype. I want to read a quote from Leanne Yau, a polyamorous autistic person. She writes, quote, being autistic benefits my polyamory and being polyamorous benefits my autism. I love and embrace both identities and see them as inherently tied. I also see my autism as tied to my queerness. Gender, like monogamy, was a concept that never really made sense to me and I was more than willing to throw the traditional societal scripts out the window so I could write my own. The queer and polyamorous communities both embrace being unconventional in a way that gives me a sense of belonging. I feel most at home among other groups that are frequently ostracized by society, unquote. From my own experience as a late diagnosed autistic, bisexual femme, yes, the people I hung out with in high school and in adulthood have been more likely to have these non-monogamous ideals. This simply meant that I learned more about non-monogamy and polyamory perhaps much earlier than my non-neurodivergent peers and friends. I was reading books about non-monogamy about a decade before non-monogamy and polyamory hit the popular press or was big in the news. But apart from a few, shall we say, experimental phases in my 20s, I have been pretty staunchly monogamous. I have a conservative evangelical bordering on fundamentalist Christian past, so it was very hard for me to both embrace my sexual identity and any non-monogamous relationship variations. I really, really had to study and think hard about it. As a little Christian girl growing up in the Bible Belt and then moving to Canada and instantly getting involved in a church, I got married when I was 19 to my church's worship pastor, and then I started reading all kinds of things and thinking very deeply and conversing with a wide array of people from many walks of life, and this led to starting to question a lot of the ideals, beliefs, and general worldview that I was raised with. Oddly enough, one of the books that had the biggest impact on me was the Letters of Abelard and Heloise, real letters between a 12th century French theologian and philosopher, Peter Abelard, and his pupil Heloise, both members of the Catholic Church. They eventually had a secret love affair and a secret baby and eventually got married in secret. But the two were not comfortable with the whole marriage thing. And Peter's family found out about the whole thing and castrated him and forced him to become a monk. You think Romeo and Juliet was tragic? I mean, read Abelard and Heloise. Anyway, I was super moved by pretty much anything Heloise wrote, in particular. One of her letters really stood out.


The name of mistress instead of wife would be dearer and more honorable to me. Only love given freely, rather than the constriction of the marriage tie, is of significance to an ideal relationship.


And my absolute favorite.


And if the name of wife appears more sacred and more valid, sweeter to me is ever the word friend or, if you be not ashamed, concubine or whore.


Preach. Anyway. So, 19 and 20 year old me, already married, accosting myself daily with the letters of some medieval horn dogs which were ripping the proverbial carpet right out from beneath me in terms of the epistemological foundations upon which all of my beliefs were built. Add in some other philosophy, I mean, I started reading Nietzsche. I was reading all kinds of things, you know. But I remember staring at my beautiful sparkling wedding ring, latched tightly on my ring finger, and thinking, dang it, dang it, I'm some owned thing, I'm a wife, I'm a wife, ahh! And I will say that my thinking is more nuanced these days. Heck, maybe I will get married someday, I don't know. But that's a bit of my thought process from back then. The words went round and round in my head. Far sweeter to me, as ever, the words friend, concubine, whore. Far sweeter to me. I think the letters of Abelard and Heloise were so impactful, not only because of how they were written and the incredible story they told, but because I had a lot of the same beliefs then that they had back in the 12th century. I really did see the world in some very similar ways, so that they were contesting aspects of a good Christian life in such a way that resulted in a series of direct hits to my beliefs and my ideals, specifically around marriage and love. I took it all very seriously. I stayed in my marriage, however, for several more years, but my commitment to marriage as a general concept, as a construct, and as an institution was dealt some serious blows right out of the gate. I don't think my marriage stood a chance. Not to mention I married way too young and had a lot of growing to do. I'd eventually leave my faith, then leave my marriage, and then I went a bit bonkers for several years. But during that time I really discovered who I was. I got in touch with my sexuality, my beliefs, my preferences, what I liked, what I didn't like, and so on. My faith and my deep devotion to it had, I think, caused a kind of arrested development in that whole department, and so I did in my late 20s what a lot of folks in their late teens and or early 20s do. But after a few years of dating and not taking things too seriously, I eventually got back into a long-term monogamous relationship that lasted over a decade, but I never stopped questioning the ethics of monogamy. I never felt comfortable feeling like someone's property or that I couldn't experience another person sexually ever again. As a super loyal person, however, I never went against my partner's preference for monogamy. Never. And now here I am once again, single, ready to, well, you know! I'm being silly, but for real, here I am once again questioning monogamy and really not wanting to go back to it. I mean, who knows, maybe one day or one person will change all that, but here it is right now, here I am. I also want to give an important reminder that being bisexual or queer or autistic or non-monogamous does not make a person more willing to do crazy stuff. I feel like, when I've disclosed these parts of myself, some people make the very wrong assumption that I'm super, de-duper, de-sexual and up for anything they want. Nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, perhaps I'm more in touch with my sexuality than the average Joe, but I'm very discerning. I have very specific tastes and I'm very picky. I don't go around desiring anyone and everyone that moves and being up for anything. I know this is true for me and I know this is true for many others who share the same or similar identities. Just be mindful of that. Challenge your knee-jerk responses and even your automatic thoughts and judgments that arise when you hear words like non-monogamy and polyamory, or even neuroqueer, bisexual, pansexual. The list goes on. I'd love to hear your stories, if you're willing to share them, about your own journey to and from non-monogamy, monogamy, any of the things we've talked about in this episode. Well, that's all I have for you today. Episode one of season three, ahh! Thank you so much for being here. Until next time, bye. Where's the cookie? What's this? What's this? Maybe if you could help edit! Are you gonna help edit this episode? Make yourself useful. Don't purr at me. Do you want this? What? What do you say?

Season Three Updates and Survey Results
Autism and Non-Monogamy