While it’s something that many people don’t want to talk about, sex matters to people. Sexual function and sexual desire can be important parts of a person’s life, particularly if he or she is in a relationship. And, unfortunately, what we know is that combat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects a veteran’s sexual desire and sexual function in negative ways. In fact, some studies have showed such a correlation between sexual dysfunction and PTSD that some have proposed making it an official, diagnostic criteria.
Sexual Desire and Combat PTSD
Sexual desire, is, of course, one’s desire for sexual relations and whether one has a partner or not, this can be important. In a 2014 study, Problems in Sexual Functioning among Male OEF/OIF Veterans Seeking Treatment for Posttraumatic Stress, 63% of male veterans in the study reported sexual desire problems. Of those with partners, 72% reported a lack of sexual desire. According to the study, white race, combat exposure, social support, and avoidance/numbing symptoms predicted a lack of sexual desire. The 2008 study Sexual Functioning in War Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, found that veterans with PTSD had significantly reduced sexual activity including sexual fantasies, foreplay, oral sex, and intercourse, in the previous month. Veterans cited their own health problems as the reason for reduced sexual activity.
It’s not clear why veterans with combat PTSD experience a loss in sexual desire but I suspect the above study may have hit on one main reason: the PTSD symptoms of avoidance/numbing. These symptoms often produce a lack of emotional intimacy in relationships and it only stands to reason that sexual intimacy would also be reduced.
Sexual Function and Combat PTSD
Several studies have focused on physical, sexual dysfunction in combat PTSD veterans. In Problems in Sexual Functioning among Male OEF/OIF Veterans Seeking Treatment for Posttraumatic Stress, an official erectile dysfunction diagnosis was present in 12% of male combat veterans while sexual arousal problems were present in 62% of partnered veterans.
In the 2002 study Sexual Dysfunction in Combat Veterans with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, “patients [combat veterans] with PTSD had poorer scores on overall satisfaction and orgasmic function and showed trends toward poorer scores on intercourse satisfaction and erectile function.” In this study, erectile dysfunction rate was 85% in veterans with PTSD while it was 22% in veterans without PTSD.
Medication, Sexual Function, Desire and Combat PTSD
It is not known why sexual desire and sexual function are so impeded in veterans with combat PTSD but part of the reason may be medication-related. Antidepressant therapy is common in combat PTSD treatment and this medication may impact desire, arousal, and sexual functioning.
How to Improve Sexual Desire and Functioning in Combat PTSD
Medication can address some sexual dysfunction issues and if the sexual function or arousal is being impacted due to a PTSD medication, a change in medication can often solve the problem. Many choices of medication exist so, in general, veterans should not have to live with this side effect.
Additionally, there is research that suggests that treating the underlying combat PTSD will correct the problems in sexual desire and function. This makes perfect sense. As other PTSD symptoms lessen, so do these ones.
Psychotherapy for combat PTSD is also often helpful in addressing these types of issues.
However, none of this help can be employed if the combat veteran is not open about what is happening for him or her so my biggest piece of advice for veterans experiencing reduced sexual desire or functioning is to be open with his or her healthcare provider so that you can look for a solution together. And remember: this, too, can be a symptom of combat PTSD and is not your fault.