Brain damage puts sex drive into fifth gear

A number of British newspapers are running this story today:

A Christian newly-wed has filed a £3.5 million compensation claim against his employers, saying that his marriage was ruined because his sex drive spiralled out of control after he injured his head at work. Stephen Tame…claims that the accident led to severe sexual disinhibition, which is destroying his marriage. His wife, Sarah…has had to spend nights away from him “to get some respite”, and he has resorted to using pornography and visiting a prostitute…Mr Tame’s lawyers say that his behaviour has [also] become rude and physically aggressive.

None of the news stories give details of the man’s injuries, but it is most likely that he sustained damage his frontal lobes in the accident. It is well established that frontal lobe lesions can cause personality changes and disruptions in various aspects of social cognition, leading to inappropriate sexual behaviour or violent or criminal behaviour. A well-known example of extreme personality changes after frontal lobe damage is the case of Phineas Gage.

The documentary below is an episode of Mindshock, which was aired on UK’s Channel 4 earlier this year. The program describes the changes in sexual behaviour of two men who suffered frontal lobe damage, one as a result of a skiing accident, the other because of a brain tumour. In both cases, the frontal lobe lesions resulted in a complete loss of sexual inhibitions. One of the men began making sexual advances towards every woman he encountered, including his own mother. The other, a teacher, began visiting prostitutes and taking pornography to work with him, and was eventually arrested for sexually abusing his young stepdaughter.

In the latter case, the man ceased to behave inappropriately when the tumour was surgically removed; however, some time later, the tumour regrew, and the inappropriate behaviour pattern returned. This raises difficult ethical questions. For example, to what extent was the man responsible for his behaviour?

Update: December 20th, 2006. Stephen Tame has been awarded £3.1 million in damages.

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5 thoughts on “Brain damage puts sex drive into fifth gear

  1. Brings to mind a friend of mine who was sexually abused as a child. She said her abuser had possibly had a minor stroke not to long before the inappropriate behaviours started. Could be looking at a similar phenomenon as the above stories…Our brains are so easily influenced…Studies are now showing that regular use of particular areas of the brain actually causes that area to grow and essentially take over some local brain real estate belonging to other “areas”. Quite fascinating. I wonder if this means we can develop types of therapy that “grow” areas of our brain that have been damaged???

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