Sex in the Brain: Homo/Heterosexuality

As has been discussed in my previous blog posts, head trauma can affect someone’s sexual preferences in a number of ways.  While uncommon, such things like hypersexuality, an infatuation with pornography and public sexual innuendo can have extremely negative effects.  Another possible effect may not be negative, but rather confusing to the person it happens to is a change from heterosexuality to homosexuality, or vice versa.

The concept of changed sexual orientation post-brain injury was first examined by UCLA and reported to the NIH in 1986.  The study evaluated the medical cases of four people with various types of altered sexual behavior following a brain injury.  Altered sexual behavior is a broad term and implies everything from hypersexuality to pedophilia.  Specific to this article, though, one of these cases followed a married, previously heterosexual woman who, following a brain injury, “made both oral and manual sexual advances to female attendants in the hospital.”

Recently, new evidence was found to promote the idea of the possibility of a change in sexual orientation due to a brain injury when former NFL star and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez committed suicide.  After his death, letters were found in which he expressed his homosexual urges, which he says followed the head trauma he was subjected to as a player in the NFL.  A post-humorous examination of Hernandez’s body discovered that he did suffer from CTE.  (Hernandez’s wife says that she saw no signs of his new urges and that she and her husband had a healthy sexual life.  Others state that they knew of his sexual orientation and that his urges greatly preceded his head trauma.)

Investigating the medically-defined reason for changes in gender-related sexual orientation has found a number of answers.  Predominantly, injury to the basal frontal area and the temporal lobes of the brain are defined as the reason for changes in sexual orientation.  A condition known as the Kluver-Bucy Syndrome is also identified as a reason.  Also a rare behavior impairment that can be caused either by a head trauma and by herpes, this syndrome involves the sex hormones produced in the brain.  Studies have also found that homosexual men and heterosexual women have a similar smaller volume of hypothalamic nucleuses, among other things.  The size and/or location of amygdia connections and the location of the cerebral hemispheres may also have an effect.

Above I have noted four brain cell alterations that can occur following a brain injury and may affect sexual orientation as it relates to preference.  The fact that the subject of gender sexual orientation after brain injury has been studied by the government for over 30 years, in both animals and humans, is evidence that no definitive reason for the change has been found.  Additionally, while studies seem to all focus on brain injuries changing someone’s orientation from hetero to homosexuality, the opposite must also be true.  Also, others do not believe it is possible for a brain injury to alter one’s sexuality at all.  As homosexuality has gained and will continue to gain more cultural acceptance, perhaps more research and, therefore, more scientific understanding of the topic will be found.

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