Sex in the Brain: Asexuality

Sometimes, when you’re without a partner, it may seem that it would be easier if you had no sex drive at all.  For those with brain injuries, who, for example, are in the hospital or have an inability to safely leave their homes, a lack of sexual urges may seem even more desirable.  However, for those who suffer from asexuality, a.k.a. a loss of sexual urges, this reality is anything but desirable.

In a 1995 report, it was “understood” that, “asexuality typically results from extreme fear of bonding with others, extreme narcissism which results in an inability to genuinely care for or empathize with others and/or severe repudiation of one’s genitals, sexual arousal or gender.”  This millennium, more research and some understanding into post-traumatic asexuality has occurred.  “Individuals post-TBI report frequent physiological, physical and body image difficulties which negatively impact sexual activity and interest,” a 2000 NIH study reports.  This statement, however, is very broad and suggests that post-TBI asexuality was not then fully understood.

Since then, few studies have followed on the topic and those that have been done have contradictory results.  In 2014, though, the NIH reported that “nervous system damage… impairs physiological aspects of sexual response.”  Physical limitations, such as fatigue, resulting muscle weakness, and having different physical abilities than one had prior to their brain injury can also have an effect.  Certain medications may also limit sexuality.  Oft-prescribed antidepressants, for example, can block certain brain chemicals, resulting in ejaculation failure, impotence and decreased libido.  Lastly, stereotypical sexual assumptions towards those with disabilities can have a negative effect.  The public perception that all those with physical and/or neurological disorders must be asexual can lead to psychosocial and emotional issues that inadvertently may cause someone to be asexual, due to lack of opportunity or lack of satisfaction.

Though research into asexuality has broadened, “the particular needs of LGBTQIA+ individuals living with a neurological disorder are neglected in clinical practice and research. The invisibility of LGBTQIA+ individuals with neurological disorders reflects the historical exclusion of marginalized identities and creates disparities of access to healthcare.”  Lack of medical understanding of neurosexuality and a botched medical treatment that left a man with a brain injury and without sexual urges resulted in a hospital being sued for $1.2 million by a now widowed Australian woman this month.  Maybe, if nothing else, it will be a fear of being sued that increases acceptance.

(For those who became asexual following a brain injury or who just want to know more about the topic, visit the Asexual Visibility and Education Network or read The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality.)

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