Sex Lives Often an Overlooked Casualty of Traumatic Brain Injury
For the more than 3 million Americans
living with traumatic brain injury, there is often an unspoken
problem: Many suffer from sexual dysfunction, something that is
easily overlooked as patients struggle with overwhelming physical
and emotional issues that can last for years, new research has
The sexual difficulties usually become most apparent about six
months after the injury and, if left unaddressed, worsen with time,
said study author Jhon Alexander Moreno, a researcher in
neuropsychology at the University of Montreal.
The cause of the injury can also influence whether a person will
struggle with sexual problems, Moreno said. "The psychological
stressors that an athlete or a soldier faces are quite different,
so a traumatic brain injury with the same severity can lead to
different sexual difficulties."
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the result of an external force
that traumatically injuries the brain. It can be caused by a
penetrating injury, such as a bullet or flying metal, or a blow to
the head, from something such as a car accident or a forceful
tackle on the football field.
The review, which was published in NeuroRehabilitation: An
International Journal, analyzed the results of 14 studies that
together included almost 1,500 patients, spouses, partners and
people without TBI, as well as rehabilitation professionals
reporting on their experience with these patients.
The study found that 50 percent to 60 percent of people with TBI
have sexual difficulties, such as reduced interest in sex, erectile
dysfunction, pain during sex, difficulties in vaginal lubrication,
difficulties achieving orgasm or staying aroused, and a sense of
diminished sex appeal, Moreno said.
The research found that partners of those with TBI experienced
personality and emotional changes, and a modification of family
roles that can lead to a crisis, Moreno said. "For the spouse, the
survivor becomes a different person, a person they do not recognize
as the one they fell in love with in the past," he said. "The
spouse becomes a caregiver and this imbalance in the relationship
directly affects sexual desire."
Marital separation rates can be as high as 78 percent among people
with TBI, Moreno said.
The research also showed that people with TBI commonly experience
thinking problems, depression, anxiety and changes in body image.
Some of their medications -- such as blood-pressure drugs,
antidepressants, stimulants and anticonvulsants -- can lower sex
drive and cause other physical and mental problems. Some develop
personality changes, such as reduced social skills and trouble
knowing what is inappropriate to say or do with others, the study
References and further information