"Healthy Sexuality": Opposing Forces? Autism and Dating, Romance, and Sexuality in the Mainstream Media

  • Emily Brooks Department of Disability Studies City University of New York School of Professional Studies


Autism and romance occupy a space of discomfort in mainstream media conversation. Employing post-structuralist textual analysis, I explore themes arising from mainstream media representations of autism and dating, sexuality, and romance through eleven feature articles from major American newspapers. The United States mainstream media applies a medical model lens to autism, associates immaturity and a lack of empathy with autistic people, and positions autistic sexuality as disruptive and dangerous. Because autistic sexuality representation counters conventional concepts of romance, autism and romance are positioned as opposing forces. The mainstream media portrays autistic people who date through supercrip narratives. Rather than showing the vast diversity of autism communities, mainstream news articles present autistic people through a heterosexualized, gendered, and whitewashed lens. As a disability studies scholar and autistic writer, I advocate for mainstream news coverage that takes a social model approach to autism, incorporates multiple identities, and provides accurate reflections of autistic people as loving adults, as well as disability rights activism that addresses underlying sexual ableism in American society.

Author Biography

Emily Brooks, Department of Disability Studies City University of New York School of Professional Studies

Emily Brooks is an adjunct lecturer of disability studies at CUNY School of Professional Studies in New York City. Emily’s research and teaching interests include the intersections of gender, sexuality, and disability; disability studies in education; disability narratives; and autism. Emily holds an MA in Disability Studies.