SELF Well-Read Book Club: ‘Sex With a Brain Injury’ Is Our January Pick

Each month, the SELF Well-Read Book Club highlights a timely, delightful, and crucial book on a subject that helps readers live better lives. So far, we’ve covered everything from the politics of running to the state of modern motherhood.

When you hear people discuss traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), you might think of football players, boxers, or cheerleaders. TBIs are a medical event that feel confined to professional athletics or some other situation that’s particularly unlikely and violent. In reality, an estimated 3.8 million concussions occur in the United States each year—and as many as 50% of concussions go unreported, meaning many of the people who have them might not even be aware.

So goes the story of Annie Liontas, who fell off their bike and hit their head at the age of 35. At the time, their diagnosis was “traumatically induced transient disturbance of brain function,” which, Liontas soon understood, is interchangeable with “concussion,” “mild head trauma,” and “mild traumatic brain injury,” or mTBI. They detail this incident and its deep, rippling effects in a new book, Sex With a Brain Injury, SELF’s January Well-Read Book Club selection.

Over the next year, Liontas experienced two more concussions, exacerbating their symptoms. In a short span of time, Liontas went from being a “healthy person”—a writer, a teacher, a partner in a marriage—to someone who identifies as Sick.

In the weeks and months following the accident, Liontas could not read. They forgot where the numbers went on a clock; they couldn’t stand being outside in the sun; their short-term memory was shot. They get “arousal migraines,” tinnitus, and nausea during foreplay—meaning sex, which used to be a source of joy and confidence for Liontas, became something almost feared. “A head injury will take a lot from you,” they write. “Loud music, perfume, storms, sprinting, pride, but what it takes from your partner is unbearable…. You know 48 to 78% of marriages fall apart after brain injury, don’t you?”

Their story is at once a cautionary tale in what can happen when you ride a bike without a helmet, a reflection on how little we really know about our bodies despite all the science and health care available, and a personal history of what happens when our physical relationships with many of the things we know and love—our families, delicious food, and, yes, even sex—evolve beyond our control.

We hope you’ll join us in reading Sex With a Brain Injury. Grab your own copy of the book below, and stay tuned for a Q&A with Liontas on later this month!

‘Sex with a Brain Injury: On Concussion and Recovery’ by Annie Liontas

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