Discussion of Medical Literature
As I researched and thought about what to say and include in this article, I was amazed to discover that just about every medical textbook that I reviewed had at least some information about sexual dysfunction, whether neurology, psychiatry, orthopedics, neuropsychology, or other areas, somewhere in each book there was some discussion about relationships between trauma, medications, emotions, injury, or something to sexual dysfunction.
I decided to include this section with just quotes from the medical literature not, in any way, to try and teach the medical substance of the quotes, but rather, for the purpose of making the reader aware of how extensively this topic is discussed in some of the very same medical books that may well be on your doctors' shelves. This knowledge may help people feel a little more comfortable about discussing issues of sexual dysfunction with a doctor.
It is also important to remember that there are physicians, specialists, and health care providers who specialize in working with people with sexual dysfunction and people have the right to request such referrals.
Rehabilitation of the Adult and Child with Traumatic Brain Injury, Second Edition, by Rosenthal, Griffith, Bond, and Miller, 1990. At page 206, the chapter is entitled "Sexuality and Sexual Dysfunction."
Human sexuality conceptually embraces the composite of those factors that result in our capacity to love and procreate. A related aspect of sexuality is the individual's perception and expression of "womanliness" or "manliness." By these terms, it is predictable that a catastrophic event such as brain injury will almost ineluctably affect the sexuality of the survivor. Sexual disabilities may include disturbances of any of the component functions of sexuality: sexual drive, interests, beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, identity, activities, responses, and fertility.
In this chapter, they refer to:
Disabilities resulting from physical or organic factors as primary dysfunction, and secondary sexual dysfunctions resulting from brain trauma are those disturbances of psychosocial abilities or sexual responses due to the mental deficits in psychologic reactions consequent to the injury. Secondary sexual dysfunctions may arise in the partner, if one exists, as the consequences of reactions to the disabled person and the altered life situation.
Current evidence indicates that secondary factors account for the great majority of sexual dysfunctions in brain injured subjects. However, more recent data suggest that primary factors may be less rare than previously surmised . . . In contrast to the growing body of general information on psychosocial aspects of brain trauma, very little has been written about sexuality.
Sexual responses - erection, vaginal lubrication, ejaculation, orgasm, and fertility - are not altered as a direct consequence of brain injury unless the hypothalamic-pituitary function has been disturbed or disrupted. The resulting endocrinopathies have received increasing attention, with recognition that testicular and ovarian hypofunction can occur. Some women with mesial temporal lobe foci of seizures have recently been reported to have hypogonadotropic hypogonadism. Women often become temporarily amenorrheic following severe trauma, but menses should ordinarily resume within 4 to 6 months. Persistent amenorrhea should alert the clinician to the possibility of pituitary dysfunction. Similarly, men frequently have transient impotence, but the ability to achieve an erection should reappear after several months.
Trauma to the craniofacial area, primary or secondary sexual organs, and orthopedic injuries resulting in amputation, contractures, deformities, and chronic pain are potential sources of dysfunction . . . Abdominal or pelvic vascular injuries can compromise circulation to the genitalia, producing impotence or other alterations in sexual responses.
Recurrent medical complications, sustained bed rest, and inactivity with its many consequences cause deconditioning and other effects that impinge upon sexual activity. A multitude of drugs produce side effects that influence sexual acts and responses . . .
Finally, pre-existing disorders may become additive factors contributing to the primary sexual dysfunction. Cardiac, vascular, pulmonary, or other types of diseases may already have compromised sexual function of the elderly before injury.
In the book Principals of Neurology by Adams, Victor, and Ropper, Sixth Edition, at page 517, under the heading of "Altered Sexuality" it states:
The normal pattern of sexual behavior in both male and female may be altered by cerebral disease quite apart from impairment due to obvious physical disability or to diseases that destroy or isolate the segmental reflex mechanisms.
Hypersexuality in men or women is a rare but well-documented complication of neurologic disease. Kleist pointed out that lesions of the orbital parts of the frontal lobes may remove moral-ethical restraints and lead to indiscriminate sexual behavior, and that superior frontal lesions may be associated with a general loss of initiative which reduces all impulsivity, including sexual.
At page 518:
In our clinical work we find that hyposexuality, meaning loss of libido, is most often due to a depressive illness. Certain chemical agents - notably antihypertensive, anticonvulsant, serotoninergic antidepressant and neuroleptic drugs - may cause a loss of libido. A variety of cerebral diseases may also have this effect.
At page 545, under the heading of "Disturbances of Sexual Function," it says:
Sexual function in the male, which is not infrequently affected in neurologic disease, may be divided into several parts: (1) sexual impulse, drive, or desire, often referred to as libido; (2) penile erection, enabling the act of sexual intercourse (potency); and (3) ejaculation of semen by the prostate through the urethra, whereby impregnation of the female may be accomplished.
The arousal of libido in men and women may result from a variety of stimuli, some purely imaginary. Such neocortical influences are transmitted to the limbic system and thence to the hypothalamus and spinal centers.
The difference aspects of sexual function may be affected separately. Loss of libido may depend upon both psychic and somatic factors. It may be complete, as in old age or in medical and endocrine diseases, or it may occur only in certain circumstances or in relation to a certain situation or individual.
. . . sexual desire may be present but penile erection impossible to attain or sustain, a condition called impotence, in which nocturnal erections are usually preserved. The commonest cause of impotence is a depressive state.
1. Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, Volume I, Sixth Edition, by Kaplan and Sadock, at page 1296:
Innervation of the organs of sexuality is mediated primarily through the autonomic nervous system. It is generally assumed that the parasympathetic system activates the process of erection via impulses that pass through the pelvic splanchnic nerves (S2, S3, S4) which caused the smooth muscles of the penile arteries to dilate.
Recent evidence implicates the sympathetic (adrenergic) system as being responsible for ejaculation . . . In women, the sympathic system facilitates smooth muscle contraction of the vagina, urethra, and uterus that occurs during orgasm.
The autonomic nervous system functions outside of voluntary control and is influenced by external events (for example, stress, drugs) and internal events (hypothalamic, limbic, and cortical stimuli). It is not surprising, therefore, that erection and orgasm are so vulnerable to dysfunction.
At page 1298:
Experimentation with animals has demonstrated that the limbic system is directly involved with elements of sexual functioning. In all mammals the limbic system is involved in behavior required for self-preservation and the preservation of the species.
A vast array of neurotransmitters are produced by the brain. They include dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. All have effects on sexual function. For example, an increase in dopamine is presumed to increase libido. Serotonin produced in the upper pons and mid-brain is presumed to have an inhibitory effect on sexual function.
At page 1300, it says:
Seven major categories of sexual dysfunction are listed in DSM-IV: (1) sexual desire disorders, (2) sexual arousal disorders, (3) orgasm disorders, (4) sexual pain disorders, (5) sexual dysfunction due to a general medical condition, (6) substance-induced sexual dysfunction, and (7) sexual dysfunction not otherwise specified.
At page 1300:
The sexual cycle is divided into four phases: desire, excitement, orgasm, and resolution. The essential feature of the sexual dysfunctions is inhibition in one or more of the phases, including disturbance in the subjective sense of pleasure or desire or disturbance in the objective performance. Either type of disturbance can occur alone or in combination. Sexual dysfunctions are so diagnosed only when such disturbances are a major part of the clinical feature. They can be lifelong or acquired, generalized or situational, and due to psychological factors or due to combined factors. If they are attributable entirely to a general medical condition, substance use, or adverse effects of medication, then sexual dysfunction due to a general medical condition or substance-induced sexual dysfunction is diagnosed.
With the possible exception of premature ejaculation, sexual dysfunctions rarely are found separate from other psychiatric syndromes. Sexual disorders may lead to or result from relational problems, and patients invariably develop an increasing fear of failure and self-consciousness about their sexual performance. Sexual dysfunctions are frequently associated with other mental disorders, such as depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, and schizophrenia. In many instances, sexual dysfunctions may be diagnosed in conjunction with the other psychiatric disorders. In some cases, however, it is but one of many signs or symptoms of the psychiatric disorder.
A sexual disorder can be symptomatic of biological problems, intrapsychic conflicts, interpersonal difficulties, or a combination of these factors. The sexual function can be affected by stress of any kind, by emotional disorders, and by a lack of sexual knowledge.
At page 1302:
Hypoactive sexual desire disorder is experienced by both men and women; however, they may not be hampered by any dysfunction once they are involved in the sex act. Conversely, hypoactive desire may be used to mask another sexual dysfunction. Lack of desire may be expressed by decreased frequency of coitus, perception of the partner as unattractive, or overt complaints of lack of desire. In some cases there are biochemical correlates associated with hypoactive desire. A recent study found markedly decreased levels of serum testosterone in men complaining of this dysfunction when they were compared with normal controls in a sleep-laboratory situation. Also, a central dopamine blockage is known to decrease desire.
Patients with desire problems often have good ego strengths and use inhibition of desire in a defensive way to protect against unconscious fears about sex. Lack of desire can also be the result of chronic stress, anxiety, or depression. Abstinence from sex for a prolonged period sometimes results in suppression of the sexual impulse. It may also be an expression of hostility or the sign of a deteriorating relationship.
The presence of desire depends on several factors: biological drive, adequate self-esteem, previous good experiences with sex, the availability of an appropriate partner, and a good relationship in nonsexual areas with one's partner. Damage to any of those factors may result in diminished desire.
Male erectile disorder is also called erectile dysfunction and impotence . . . In acquired male erectile disorder the man has successfully achieved vaginal penetration at some time in his sexual life but is later unable to do so.
The percentage of all men treated for sexual disorders who have impotence as the chief complaint ranges from 35 to 50 percent. The incidence of psychological as opposed to organic impotence has been the focus of many recent studies. Physiologically, impotence may be due to a variety of medical causes. In the United States it is estimated that two million men are impotent because they suffer from diabetes mellitus; an additional 300,000 are impotent because of other endocrine diseases; 1.5 million are impotent as a result of vascular disease; 180,000 because of multiple sclerosis; 400,000 because of traumas and fractures leading to pelvic fractures or spinal cord injuries; and another 650,000 as a result of radical surgery, including prostatectomies, colostomies, and cystectomies. In addition, the clinician should be aware of the possible pharmacological effects of medication on sexual functioning. The increased incidence of organic etiologies for this dysfunction in the past 15 years may, in part, reflect the increased use of psychotropic and antihypertensive medications. Statistics indicate that 20 to 50 percent of men with erectile dysfunction have a medical basis for their problem.
Sexual dysfunction due to a general medical condition. The category covers sexual dysfunction that results in marked distress and interpersonal difficulty when there is evidence from the history, the physical examination, or the laboratory findings of a general medical condition judged to be causally related to the sexual dysfunction.
Male erectile disorder due to a general medical condition. The incidence of psychological as opposed to organic male erectile disorder has been the focus of many studies. Statistics indicate that 20 to 50 percent of men with erectile disorder have an organic basis for the disorder. The medical causes of male erectile disorder are listed in Table 21.1a-10 which include, as general categories, infectious and parasitic diseases, cardiovascular disease, renal and urological disorders, hepatic disorders, pulmonary disorders, genetics, nutritional disorders, endocrine disorders, neurological disorders, pharmacological contributants, poisoning, surgical procedures, and miscellaneous including "any severe systemic disease or debilitation condition." Side effects of medication may impair male sexual functioning in a variety of ways. Castration does not always lead to sexual dysfunction, depending on the person. Erection may still occur after castration.
A number of procedures, benign and invasive, are used to help differentiate medically caused impotence from psychogenic impotence. The procedures include monitoring nocturnal penile tumescence (erections that occur during sleep), normally associated with rapid eye movement; monitoring tumescence with strain gauge; measuring blood pressure in the penis with a penile plethysmograph or an ultrasound (Doppler) flow meter, both of which assess blood flow in the internal pudendal artery; and measuring pudendal nerve latency time. Neurological impairment of penile function may be indicated if vibratory perception is increased in the penis. Other diagnostic tests that delineate organic bases for impotence include glucose tolerance tests, plasma hormone assays, liver and thyroid function tests, prolactin and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) determinations, and cystometric examinations. Invasive diagnostic studies include penile arteriography, infusion cavernosography, and radioactive xenon penography. Invasive procedures require expert interpretation and are used only for patients who are candidates for vascular reconstructive procedures.
A good history is crucial in determining the etiology of the male erectile disorder. If a man reports having spontaneous erections at times when he does not plan to have intercourse, having morning erections or only sporadic erectile dysfunction, or having good erections with masturbation or with partners other than his usual one, then organic causes for his impotence can be considered negligible, and costly diagnostic procedures can be avoided. In those cases in which a medical basis for impotence is found, psychological factors often contribute to the dysfunction, and psychiatric treatment may be helpful. In some diabetics, for instance, erectile dysfunction may be psychogenic. In general, the psychological conflicts that cause impotence are related to an inability to express the sexual impulse because of fear, anxiety, anger, or moral prohibition.
Many developmental factors have been cited as contributing to erectile disorder. Any experience that hinders the ability to be intimate, that leads to a feeling of inadequacy or distrust, or that develops a sense of being unloving or unlovable may result in impotence. In an ongoing relationship, erectile dysfunction may reflect difficulties between the partners, particularly if the person cannot communicate his or her needs or angry feelings in a direct and constructive way. Successive episodes of impotence are reinforcing, with the man becoming increasingly anxious about his next sexual encounter. Regardless of the original etiology of the dysfunction, his anticipatory anxiety about achieving and maintaining an erection interferes with his pleasure and sexual contract and with his ability to respond to stimulation, thus perpetuating the problem.
Hypoactive sexual desire disorder due to a general medical condition. Desire commonly decreases after major illness or surgery, particularly when the body image is affected after such procedures as mastectomy, ileostomy, hysterectomy, and prostatectomy. Illness that deplete a person's energy, chronic conditions that require physical and psychological adaptation, and serious illnesses that may cause the person to become depressed can all result in a marked lessening of sexual desire in both men and women.
In some cases, biochemical correlates are associated with hypoactive sexual desire disorder.
Other male sexual dysfunction due to a general medical condition. The category is used when some other dysfunctional feature is predominant (for example, orgasmic disorder) or no feature predominates. Male orgasmic disorder may have physiological causes and can occur after surgery on the genitourinary tract, such as prostatectomy. It may also be associated with Parkinson's disease and other neurological disorders involving the lumbar or sacral sections of the spinal cord. The antihyptensive drug guanethidine monosulfate (Ismelin), methyldopa (Aldomet), the phenothiazines, the tricyclic drugs, and fluoxetine (Prozac), among others have been implicated in retarded ejaculation. Male orgasmic disorder must also be differentiated from retrograde ejaculation, in which ejaculation occurs but the seminal fluid passes backward into the bladder. Retrograde ejaculation always has an organic cause.
Acquired female orgasmic disorder is a common complaint in clinical populations. One clinical treatment facility described nonorgasmic women as about four times more common in its practice than patients with all other sexual disorders. In another study 46 percent of the women complained of difficulty in reaching orgasm, and 15 percent described an inability to have orgasm.
Male orgasmic disorder. In male orgasmic disorder (previously inhibited male orgasm and called retarded ejaculation) the man achieves climax during coitus with great difficulty, if at all. A man suffers from lifelong orgasmic disorder if he has never been able to ejaculate during coitus. The disorder is diagnosed as acquired if it develops after previous normal functioning.
Almost every pharmacological agent, particularly those used in psychiatry, has been associated with an effect on sexuality. In men those effects include decreased sex drive, erectile failure (impotence), decreased volume of ejaculate, and delayed or retrograde ejaculation. In women decreased sex drive, decreased vaginal lubrication, inhibited or delayed orgasm, and decreased or absent vaginal contractions may occur. Drugs may also enhance the sexual response and increase the sex drive, but that effect is less common than are adverse effects.
Talk about the male ego being associated with sex, and the male ego being associated with the ability to make a living, as 19th century as that may sound. When the man is all of a sudden transformed from the wage earner, and head of the family, to someone who is reliant upon the system for his living, or a workers compensation carrier for money, this does tremendous damage to the male ego.
Under the heading of Treatment of Sexual Dysfunction:
Various corrective therapies are now used to treat sexual dysfunctions . . .
In addition to making the determination of which type of therapy to use, the clinician must evaluate whether or not the disorder has a physiological cause. It is assumed that prior to entering psychotherapy, a patient will have had a thorough medical evaluation, including a medical history, physical examination, and appropriate laboratory studies when necessary. If a medical cause for the disorder is found, treatment should be directed toward ameliorating the cause of the dysfunction.
Page 1319, under the heading of Biological Treatment Methods, it says:
Pharmacotherapy. Penile injections produce a transient increase in penile blood flow, which allows the patient to become tumescent or gain an erection. The physician usually administers a test dose of the drug, and if the patient responds favorably, he is then taught to inject himself. Hormone therapy is listed, antiandrogens and antiestrogens, male prosthesis (at page 1320): Surgical treatment is rarely advocated, but improved penile prosthetic devices are available for men with inadequate erectile response who are resistant to other treatment methods or who have medically caused deficiencies.
The course and prognosis of secondary sexual dysfunctions vary widely, depending on the etiology . . . Dysfunctions due to neurological disease may run protracted, even progressive, courses. The treatment approach similarly varies widely, depending on the etiology. When reversal of the underlying cause is not possible, supportive and behaviorally oriented psychotherapy with the patient (and perhaps the partner) may minimize distress and increase sexual satisfaction (for example, by developing sexual interactions that are not limited by the specific dysfunction). Support groups for people with specific types of dysfunction are available.
Organic Psychiatry, the Psychological Consequences of Cerebral Disorder by Dr. William A. Lishman, Third Edition, 1988. At page 271 under the heading of Sexual Disorder in Epilepsy:
Sexual disorder attracted little attention in epileptic patients until relatively recently. Several reports, however, now stress the frequency of sexual disturbance in patients with temporal lobe epilepsy. Hyposexuality has emerged as the commonest abnormality, with perversions of sexual interest and outlet occurring in a much smaller number.
Gastaut and Collomb (1954) were the first to draw attention to hyposexuality after specific inquiry in 36 patients with temporal lobe epilepsy. More than two-thirds showed marked diminution or absence of interest, appetite or sexual activity. Other forms of focal and generalized epilepsy appeared to be unassociated with such problems. There was often a remarkable lack of sexual curiosity, fantasies or erotic dreams, yet little to suggest inhibition since the patients talked easily and without reserve about such matters. Indeed they appeared to be quite indifferent about the subject.
By detailed interviews it was established that 41% of the male temporal lobe epileptics were hyposexual, compared to 8% of the males with generalized epilepsy. The corresponding figures for females were 38% and 5% respectively. On restricting attention to patients over the age of 15 and where adequate information was available these differences were accentuated, reaching statistically significant levels. Among the males the disorder was manifest as a global lack of interest, failure of erections and nocturnal emissions, and absence of fantasies or dreams of a sexual nature. The females remained totally passive in sexual relations and failed to reach orgasm . . . The lack of concern evidenced by the patients, and their failure to make complaints, probably accounted for the problem having attracted so little attention in the past. Toone et al (1989) found that temporal lobe epileptics and other focal epileptics recruited from general practice were equivalently impaired, both more often lacking sexual interest and activity than patients with primary generalized epilepsy.
From the Textbook of Clinical Neurology by Goetz and Pappert, at page 369, under the heading of "Sexual Dysfunction" it says:
Treatment of organic impotence includes treatment of secondary psychological problems and reducing or eliminating aggravating factors such as poor sleep, chronic pain, malnutrition, alcohol use, and some medications. Yohimbine can be used orally to increase penile arterial vasodilatation and enhance relaxation of the cavernous trabeculae. Direct injection of papaverine (direct smooth muscle relaxant), phentolamine, or prostaglandin E1 into the corpora cavernosa may be effective but poses the risks of priapism and scarring of the tunica albuginea. A vacuum device may also be used to enhance corporal filling.
In the book Head Injury and Post Concussive Syndrome by Rizzo and Tranel, at page 312, under the heading of "Sexual Disorders" it says:
Symptoms of sexual dysfunction can be noted after TBI. These symptoms can be grouped into changes in sexual interest or performance and the development of inappropriate or unusual sexual behaviors. A syndrome of apathy can extend to apathy in sexuality, with diminished desire and reduced frequency of sexual intercourse. Impotence can also develop after TBI. Finally, inappropriate sexual behavior and speech have been noted, especially in patients with significant frontal lobe dysfunction. This can include suggestive remarks or unwanted sexual advances toward health professionals. Increased interest in pornography has also been noted.
Under DSM-IV Classification, it says:
When sexual apathy is a target of evaluation and interest, the appropriate classification comes under the sexual dysfunction due to head trauma category. The subclassification would be 608.89 Male (or 625.80 Female) hypoactive sexual desire due to head trauma. Male impotency following TBI would be denoted by 607.84, male erectile disorder due to head trauma.
Inappropriate sexual behavior problems can be clinically important enough for diagnosis. Inappropriate sexual behaviors believed to be due to frontal lobe damage would be designated as personality change due to head trauma - disinhibited type.
Under the heading of "Differential Diagnosis" it says:
Disorders of sexual desire can be primary (i.e., present prior to head trauma or unrelated to the injury). Medications can have significant effect on sexual interest and performance. A variety of causes for impotence should be reviewed, including vascular disorders, diabetes, and psychological disorders impairing male sexual function.