Content note: This article features frank discussions of sex
If you’re looking for a podcast by autistic adults and also for autistic adults, we very much recommend Stim4Stim. Hosts Zack Budryk and Charlie H. Stern are “real live autistic people talking to other autistic people about dating, sex, love, BDSM, friendships, religion, death, and meaning.” We chatted with Zack about how Stim4Stim came to be, why it’s so important to have an autism podcast that is not parent-centered, and how there isn’t one human pace for development—plus how autistic people can contribute to the podcast, and how anyone can support Stim4Stim.
Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism (TPGA): You declared outright that Stim4Stim is a response to Netflix’s autism dating series Love on the Spectrum. Can you talk about what the problems with that series is, what you are trying to do instead—and whether Netflix has hired you to advise on the forthcoming American version of the series?
Zack Budryk: Love on the Spectrum presents an incredibly paternalistic view of both autistic people in general and their dating life, with like active, hands-on involvement from parents, almost akin to a relationship with two teens who know each other from church or something. As a married and poly autistic person, respectively, we were annoyed by that in part because we knew from personal experience what an incomplete view of the autistic romantic and sexual experience that is, so from that annoyance, the idea was born. We haven’t heard anything from Netflix but I personally would definitely take consultant money, which as I understand is when you get paid to say whether something’s a bad idea.
TPGA: Are you willing to talk about how the two of you connected since that isn’t a happy story, even though Stim4Stim is one of the results?
Budryk: Charlie and I connected after the death in 2016 of Caroline Wall, a dear friend of both of ours who we met at different times in her life, Charlie in college and me in the workplace. The sort of trauma-bonding that resulted from that is part of what I think gave us the connection and chemistry necessary to do the podcast in the first place, and the navigation of grief is a major theme in the podcast as well because much like a relationship, there’s no manual for it but neurotypical people still are very into the idea that neurodivergent people are doing it wrong.
TPGA: How do the two of you represent some of the diversity of the autistic experience, both in your diagnostic journeys and in your relationships?
Budryk: Well as I said above, I’ve been married a little over eight years whereas Charlie is poly; I was also formally diagnosed as a teen, which I think is sort of the stereotypical, at least from a media perspective, journey, or at least the one that’s the most accepted. I don’t want to get the details of Charlie’s own epiphany wrong but it’s markedly different from my own.
TPGA: Can you talk about why your podcast is for relationship-age autistic themselves, rather than their neurotypical parents? (Although such parents could learn a lot, if wiling to listen, since autistic kids do in fact become autistic adults. And IMHO anyone who is sexually active can benefit from the destigmatization of lube.)
Budryk: Well because first and foremost, people are the experts on their own experiences even if they’re still figuring themselves out. And adults are entitled to be treated as adults, rather than getting hung up on bullshit like “mental age” or whatever. So it’s really important to us that we be a resource for autistic and neurodivergent people directly in a market that’s so inundated with parent-focused resources.
TPGA: Can you talk about the interplay of developmental disability and relationships/sex, and also the importance of autistic people recognizing the difference between physical and emotional maturation?
Budryk: One of the things we try to emphasize, because it’s something that autistic people tend to rely on in the form of scripting and plans and schedules, is that there isn’t a single human pace, these certain points at which you absolutely need to have had “x” life experiences. I think that’s particularly important for a topic like sex, which is obviously an extremely personal thing that, when/if it happens, is different for everyone and a reflection of very specific circumstances, and yet there are a lot of messages in mass media suggesting it’s somehow one-size-fits-all. This is particularly thorny territory that we’ve yet to cover on the show but I think this makes young autistic men in particular susceptible to incel rhetoric sometimes.
So when we discuss sex on the show, we do our best to emphasize obviously non-negotiable things like consent and respect but also the fact that it’s very much something that you and probably at least one other person figure out for yourselves, rather than something that’s prescribed somehow from on high.
TPGA: What are some favorite topics that you’ve covered so far?
Budryk: Kristin Chirico and her wife Brie Hubble was our first double-bill and also, with Kristin, our first non-autistic guest, and the two of them discussed being in an autistic/ADHD marriage, which is also the case in my marriage, so I really appreciated getting to comiserate on the subject—on top of which they were just extremely entertaining guests in general. We also recorded a bonus episode with our wonderful editor Alyssa where we just riffed for a while, which was less topic-focused but the sort of thing we’d love to do more of as the show grows.
TPGA: What other areas of autism and relationships are you hoping to delve into via podcast guests? Will you be including people with intellectual disabilities?
Budryk: We have an upcoming recording about breakups and the ends of relationships with a guest who is divorced, which is obviously an important thing to discuss and it’s very important to us to make clear that that sort of thing doesn’t mean you like, failed as a human who has relationships. Nothing is set in stone yet but after the Kristin/Brie episode, since that was our first episode with a neurodivergent but not autistic guest, we’ve discussed the possibility of having my wife Raychel on at some point too. We definitely want to have more people with intellectual disabilities too and it’s our hope that as we build a following, the process of just reaching out and going “hey, you want to come on?” becomes much simpler.
TPGA: How do you choose which write-in questions to answer? Are there any questions (or questioners) who are an automatic “no thank you,” and why?
Budryk: It varies week to week; sometimes we’ll have a guest lined up and there’s only one question sitting in the inbox for us to answer. The only one we’ve ever decided not to answer for a reason other than time or just lack of a guest who could speak to the topic was this really rambling, up-its-own-ass email that I can’t even remember the details of by someone who also I think wanted to be on the podcast while we answered it? And to be clear, we have no beef with rambling, it’s the up-its-own-ass thing we can’t abide.
TPGA: How has the feedback been? Have you had any blowback?
Budryk: It’s been overwhelmingly positive so far, a lot of people saying they’re glad someone is doing what we’re doing. No blowback to speak of at this point, although I’m sure if the professional Autism Parent set found out what we were doing they’d be pretty pissed off.
TPGA: How can people find and support your podcast?