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Post-Combat Soldiers and Sex

Changes in Sexual Feelings for Post-Combat Soldiers

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Updated December 14, 2007

Whether you consider yourself to be an “emotional” person or not, feelings play a significant role in our sex lives, even if we never talk about them. Many realities of military life can negatively impact the way you feel about sex. In particular, deployment to a war zone can have devastating effects on how you feel about sex. Longer and multiple deployments which are common with Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom probably make things even more difficult once you get home. Here are a few examples of how combat and combat injuries can change the way you feel about sex and your sexual feelings, and some ideas on how to deal with these changes.

Emotional Distance from Time Apart
Being away from your partner during long deployments, hospitalization and/or rehabilitation can create a distance that continues long after you’re home. Both of you found a way to cope while apart and it can be hard to make room for each other once you’re back together. You may feel this distance a little bit all the time, and that can make it difficult to put your finger on how to talk about it, or even what to say. For some people, the distance is very noticeable when it comes to sex. Because sex usually involves sharing some part of yourself, it can make us feel exposed and vulnerable. It may take time and communication before you can let each other back in.

Other Feelings “Take Over”
You may find yourself preoccupied with feelings of guilt or anger (to name just two) after coming home. Experiencing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), other mood changes, and/or traumatic brain injury (TBI) can make it harder to switch your focus away from specific negative feelings. When you spend a lot of time focused on these negative and draining feelings, it can be difficult to switch into an intimate mode and feel joy or pleasure when having sex with a partner.

Sex “Feels” Different
Having sex may feel different and you may miss the way it used to feel. The difference might be physical, because of pain or changes in sensation, and it might be psychological. You may find that sex doesn’t provide the same kind of physical or emotional release it used to. All of these things can feel like a loss and if you don’t talk about them they can get in the way of moving forward and creating a new sex life together.

Gender Expectations
How we feel about sex also includes how well we feel about ourselves as masculine and feminine. Guys may assume that if you can’t get an erection you can't be a real man. Women may find it difficult to deal with expectations of them as “feminine” after living with a very different set of military expectations during training and deployment.

When you come back home, you may feel like you can’t meet the expectations your partner has of you as “a man” or “a woman.” This can have a damaging impact on your sense of yourself as sexual and your ability to enjoy sex.

Sexual Assault/Military Sexual Trauma
The experience of being sexually assaulted can have a profound affect on how you feel about sex or how you feel about intimate relationships that include sex. It is well documented that both men and women in the military experience sexual assault and a condition called military sexual trauma has been coined to describe the lasting impact of these experiences. In addition to being wary of getting back into a sexual relationship, if you haven’t talked about your experience with anyone the stress of keeping that secret can worsen the impact of the original assault on your feelings about sex.

Changed Feelings about Your Body
Your time in the hospital and rehabilitation may have added to negative feelings about being sexual. Even though everything done in hospitals is for your health, spending months being poked and prodded and going through multiple procedures can change the way you feel about others touching your body.

Next page....Dealing with Changes in your Sexual Feelings

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