Date of Project


Document Type

Honors Thesis

School Name

College of Arts and Sciences



Major Advisor

Jean M. Lamont


Objective: Autistic individuals are at higher risk of sexual victimization than the general population. The purpose of this study was to examine experiences of insecurity and adverse sexual experiences in romantic relationships from the perspective of those with autism diagnoses, those who suspect they have autism, and those with autistic traits, as well as determine potential mediating and moderating factors.

Methods: Participants (N=452 U.S. adults) completed various measures assessing autistic traits, masking, insecurity in relationships, adverse sexual experiences, perceived social support, discrimination, and perceived availability of partners via online survey. Participants also reported formal autism diagnosis or suspected diagnosis. Masking was hypothesized to increase in women, and adverse relationship experiences were hypothesized to increase with regards to gender and sexuality. Results were analyzed using bivariate correlations and moderated mediation analyses.

Results: Higher autistic traits correlated with increased adverse relationship experiences, and masking was shown to mediate the interaction between autistic traits and adverse relationship experiences. Women with medium-to-high levels of autistic traits masked at higher rates than men with similar levels of autistic traits. Formal diagnosis, suspected diagnosis, and higher levels of autistic traits all correlated with adverse sexual experiences, and all factors but formal diagnosis and gender correlated with greater insecurity in relationships.

Conclusions: Masking suppresses natural behaviors and emotions and can lead to negative mental health consequences and adverse relationship experiences, including victimization. Those with high levels of autistic traits are more likely to mask, putting them at risk. Factors such as gender, sexuality, social support, and discrimination can lead to adverse relationship experiences.

Available for download on Tuesday, October 29, 2024