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Post-Combat Soldiers and Sex

Changes in Access to Sex for Post-Combat Soldiers

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Updated March 30, 2008

It’s a generalization, but it's pretty accurate: In our society if you look different, move different, or talk different, you’re treated differently. Family members, friends, and well meaning health care professionals may tell you otherwise, but if you’ve been injured in a way that changed how you look, talk, or move around, you’ve probably already noticed this.

One of the biggest ways that injuries and disabilities can impact your sex life is how they make it more challenging to find sexual partners, or to feel comfortable with the sexual partners we have. Tom Shakespeare, a disability activist and scholar, likes to say that the problem with sex when you have a disability is not how to have sex but who to have sex with. Here are some examples of how combat and living with a disability can affect access to sex and suggestions on how to deal with those changes.

Meeting New Sexual Partners
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can get in the way of you meeting people you might want to have sex with. For example, you might not realize someone is flirting with you and miss an opportunity to flirt back. On the other hand, you might think someone is flirting with you when they aren’t, resulting in an opportunity you wished you had passed up. You may also not be as good at figuring out whether you’re getting yourself in to a risky sexual situation, and so you could keep finding yourself in bad sexual situations where you regret the outcome. Also, living with stress or pain or being preoccupied with negative thoughts can make something like casual flirting -- usually a required first step to finding a sexual partner -- feel like more work than it's worth.

Reconnecting with a Current Partner
If you’re in a relationship, the signs you and your partner used to have to let each other know you want to have sex may not work, which could leave both of you assuming that neither of you want sex (when the opposite might be true). Even something like sleeping patterns can impact how much sex you have access to with a partner. If you have a hard time getting to sleep, or need to take medication to sleep, you may miss the time when the two of you would usually be sexual (before bed).

Accessing Sexual Entertainment/Sex Work
Something most health care professionals probably won’t mention is access to sexual entertainment and sex work. Getting into strip clubs, sex stores, and brothels can be harder when so many are inaccessible. Often there are ways around physical barriers but it can take some creativity and support. While these kinds of sexual experiences are by no means necessary, if they are a part of your sex life that you enjoy (and as long as they’re legal where you live) you should be able to access them the same as non-disabled people.

Dealing with Changes in Access to Sex
We can’t change the way the world sees people with disabilities overnight, but we can at least acknowledge what’s going on and talk about ways to deal with people’s prejudices. The truth is that what sexually attracts us to another person is much more than what is on the outside; its chemistry, personality, energy and some unknown elements. Of course it’s physical too, but thinking that the way you look is all that attracts people to you is oversimplifying it. It can be hard to remember this because of society’s singular focus on Hollywood beauty.

Meeting New Sexual Partners & Reconnecting with Partners
If you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD or TBI and think these things might be getting in the way of you meeting new people or re-establishing a sexual relationship with your current partner, it can be helpful to talk with a psychologist, and other professionals who supported your recovery, about strategies for relearning the social cues involved in flirting. It may sound strange, but you might have to relearn how to flirt, pick people up, and even initiate a conversation about having sex. The good news is that this is homework with a very positive result.

Accessing Sexual Entertainment/Sex Work
Sexual entertainment and sex work (prostitution) can be very sensitive topics for some people based on political, religious, and personal beliefs. They may think that these things are “wrong” or even “evil.” In the end, you have to let your own morality and politics (plus the law of the state or country you live in) be your guide. If something is consensual and legal and some people have access to it, it’s reasonable to argue that we should all have access to this. If you use a wheelchair and would like to visit a sex toy store that has no access for people with disabilities, you might not feel like fighting for your legal rights, but if you want to you are completely within your rights to do it (and you’d have a huge group of people silently cheering you on).

Read more:

Learn how combat experience can affect:

Interview with B.J. and Abby Jackson – Creating a Sex Life after Combat

Interview with Dr. Mitch Tepper – Working to Address Sexuality for Wounded Warriors

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