Sexuality and Gender Role in Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Case Control Study
The ‘extreme male brain theory of autism’ describes an extreme male pattern of cognitive traits defined as strong systemising abilities paired with empathising weaknesses in autism spectrum disorder. However, beyond these cognitive traits, clinical observations have suggested an ambiguous gender-typed pattern regarding several sexually dimorphic traits.
The aim of the present study was to investigate if patterns of non-cognitive sexually dimorphic traits differed between the autism spectrum disorder and control groups. Fifty adults with autism spectrum disorder and intelligence within the normal range, and 53 neurotypical controls responded to questions on gender role, self-perceived gender typicality and gender identity, as well as sexuality. Measures used were a Swedish modification of the Bem Sex Role Inventory and questions on sexuality and gender designed for the purpose of this study. Our results showed that one common gender role emerged in the autism spectrum disorder group. Masculinity (e.g. assertiveness, leadership and competitiveness) was weaker in the autism spectrum disorder group than in the controls, across men and women. Self-perceived gender typicality did not differ between the groups but tomboyism and bisexuality were overrepresented amongst women with autism spectrum disorder. Lower libido was reported amongst both male and female participants with autism spectrum disorder compared with controls. We conclude that the extreme male patterns of cognitive functions in the autistic brain do not seem to extend to gender role and sexuality. A gender-atypical pattern for these types of characteristics is suggested in autism spectrum disorder.