Some of the effects of brain injury, or the experience of having a brain injury, can indeed make a brain injury survivor disinterested in sex, especially in the early days. But many brain injury survivors’ sexual interests will not have changed and they will have the same desires for intimacy and physical contact as anyone else.
If you are a sexual partner of a brain injury survivor and you are not sure whether they are interested in sex, talk to them and give them the opportunity to be honest about how they feel.
Having a brain injury does not automatically switch off someone’s sex drive, but it is important to also recognise that it can affect their interest in sex for a number of reasons.
Again, this can be both true and false. Many brain injury survivors are still perfectly capable of having sex. However, some brain injury survivors might have hormonal imbalance issues that affect them on a physical level so that their body does not react in the same way to sexual activity as it did before the injury. This can impact ability and desire.
Others may experience issues such as pain, making sex uncomfortable. Emotional and psychological effects of brain injury can also prevent some survivors from being able to have sex.
However, there are things that can help to overcome these issues. Endocrinologists are specialists that can help people with hormonal imbalance issues. Medication can help with managing some of these issues, and exploring different positions can help to make sex more comfortable.
There are some well-known cases of brain injury survivors developing hyperactive sexuality (drastically increased sexual interest) after their injury.
A brain injury can also commonly cause disinhibition, causing the survivor to behave or talk in a sexually inappropriate way. However, some survivors may also develop hypoactive sexuality, which is decreased interest in sex. This could be related to psychological issues (such as depression, decreased confidence or post-traumatic stress disorder), or physical issues (such as pain or hormonal imbalance).Whether a survivor develops hyper or hypoactive sexual tendencies, support can be sought to help with managing this.
Sexual relationships after brain injury is a complex area. It can impact relationships, intimacy with long-term partners, and be a cause of depression and anxiety.
Issues such as disinhibition, impulsivity and general vulnerability may also be of natural concern, particularly for many carers and family members.
What is clear is that sex is something that we should all be comfortable talking about – regardless of disability.
This article introduces some of the main themes of the topic. More information is available on in an extended article on our website, and in the award-winning Headway booklet Sex and sexuality after brain injury, which can be downloaded from www.headway.org.uk/information-library.
Alternatively you can request a copy from our confidential helpline on 0808 800 2244 which can also signpost you to specialist organisations that provide safe and useful advice.
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