Trauma of War Sexual Dysfunction and Intimacy Issues

Veteran Intimacy Issues – The Hidden Epidemic

| Sexual function and intimacy issues after combat injuries and war trauma are not simply a matter of mechanics.

Trauma and PTSD are emotionally draining, causing numbness; and interfere with interpersonal relationships. Post traumatic stress disorder causes intense anxiety, intrusive memories, hyper-vigilance and sometimes, sudden vivid flashbacks.

Sexual Dysfunction and Intimacy Issues Caused by PTSD, War Trauma

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery - Trauma Informed Addiction TreatmentEmotional numbing, sexual dysfunction and intimacy issues are often not discussed with returning veterans. For many veterans, intimacy issues and sexual dysfunction issues are caused by trauma and PTSD. Studies have found that those exposed to traumatic events are more likely to experience sexual dysfunction. Dysfunction can also include various sexual addiction behaviors.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a complex combination of brain trauma that disrupts hormonal regulation and emotional reactions; including fear and performance anxiety. The Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress in Bethesda, Md. recently launched Courage to Talk, in an effort to help military doctors communicate better with returning vets.

Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience high rates of sexual dysfunction. However, the topic of sexual dysfunction is often overlooked clinically and under-examined in the PTSD research literature. Clinician assessment and treatment of sexual dysfunction are particularly important for combat veterans, who are at increased risk of exposure to trauma. Journal of Sexual Medicine, April 2015

PTSD ‘Self Medication’ with Drugs and Alcohol

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery, Baby Boomer Opioid Addiction TreatmentMany individuals with PTSD begin to use drugs or alcohol as a way to numb the emotional pain caused by trauma.

The hidden trauma of alcohol and drug use adversely impacts the entire family. If painkillers are prescribed for injuries and over-used, prescription painkiller addiction treatment will be needed.

When PTSD and trauma are combined with addiction, it is essential to choose a reputable, licensed addiction treatment facility with the staff and expertise to treat co-occuring disorders.

High rates of intimacy issues and sexual dysfunction have led some mental health professionals to suggest that decreased sexual desire should be considered as a symptom of PTSD.

War Veteran Sexual Health

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery - Boomer PTSD and Trauma TreatmentDiscussions on war veteran sexual health have largely focused on physical injuries rather than intimacy. This not only creates a huge gap in understanding, but also in treatment.

The impact of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) on relationships can be manifested through marital issues, separation, divorce, parenting difficulties, maladaptive behaviors, family dysfunction, domestic violence, and reintegration failures. (Back from the Front: Combat Trauma, Love, and the Family, Matsakis, 2007)

War Veterans Sexual Dysfunction

Many studies on sexual dysfunction among veterans with PTSD have looked at Vietnam veterans. In those studies, rates of sexual dysfunction were as high as 80%. The high rates led some mental health professionals to suggest that decreased sexual desire should be considered as a symptom of PTSD.

In reviewing the medical charts of the veterans, researchers found that 47 out of 53 veterans had some form of sexual dysfunction. This means only 6 of the 53 veterans did not have sexual dysfunction.

Sexual Dysfunction Among Iraqi Conflict Veterans with PTSD

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery - Addiction Recovery PTSD and Intimacy IssuesA study by a researcher at the Veterans Affairs Pacific Islands Health Care System in Honolulu, Hawaii, looked at rates of sexual dysfunction among 53 male Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans. All of the veterans were receiving mental health care for PTSD.

In reviewing the medical charts of the veterans, researchers found that 47 out of 53 veterans had some form of sexual dysfunction. This means only 6 of the 53 veterans did not have sexual dysfunction.

This means that almost 90% of the veterans were experiencing some form of sexual dysfunction. Thirty-nine veterans have reduced sexual desire, 26 had erectile dysfunction, and 8 had some form of ejaculatory problem.

Source: Hirsch, K.A. (2009). Sexual dysfunction in male Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom patients with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Military Medicine, 174, 520-523.

Veteran Intimacy Issues: ‘Elephant in the Bedroom’

With an estimated 400,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars thought to have suffered an injury — either physical or mental — in combat zones, the Pentagon, civilian behavioral health specialists and military couples are starting to talk about the “elephant in the bedroom”. Both visible injuries – and invisible injuries such as PTSD – are creating chaos with the sex lives of service members and veterans.

“So many articles in the popular press tell heartwarming stories of reunion but never mention how these injuries are impacting their sex lives,” said Michael Shelton, a sex therapist in Philadelphia.

Dept of Defense Study – Intimacy Issues Among Combat Vets

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery - Addiction Recovery Co-occurring DisordersIn the list of problems that can confront service members after a combat deployment, few can be harder to talk about or more devastating than the inability to resume intimate relationships. Couples who have survived multiple combat deployments know this from experience.

While it’s hard to quantify the problem, it is common enough that psychiatrists with the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, part of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences here, are reaching out with information to health care providers, counselors and military families to help troops re-establish deep connections – both emotional and physical – upon returning home.

“Intimacy is an important part of post-deployment health care,” Dr. Stephen J. Cozza, associate director of the center and professor of psychiatry at the university, told American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel. Any couple separated for many months needs to be patient and give extra attention to their relationship after a deployment, he added.

But for those suffering from the current wars’ signature wounds of post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury, “those conditions can have a profound effect on relationships, and especially intimacy,” Cozza said.
DoD studies intimacy issues among combat vets, Military Times, March 2013

People with post-traumatic stress sometimes experience personality changes, become emotionally distant or avoid people and feelings, he explained. TBIs can further complicate relationships, and especially sexuality, depending on the injury, which may leave the person in physical pain and cause their partner to double as caregiver, he said.

Add to that possible side effects of medications, impulsive or violent behavior, or substance abuse, and many post-deployment problems can hinder intimacy, Cozza said.

All of this can be devastating to couples and seeking help can be difficult. “How do you bring that subject up?” Cozza asked. “Often, we just don’t even have the words to express it.”

Help for Drug and Alcohol Addiction and PTSD, Trauma, Chronic Pain

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery, Rehab for Men, Prescott, AZArrowhead Lodge Recovery is a gender specific rehab for men, ages 30 and older; located in the beautiful mountains in Prescott, Arizona. We specialize in Trauma Informed Addiction Treatment and Therapy; treating addiction with co-occurring disorders and PTSD.

By maintaining a high staff-to-client ratio, Arrowhead Lodge Recovery is able to focus intensive therapy and attention to each man, and to deliver truly individualized care.

Trauma Informed Therapy

To effectively treat clients who suffer from trauma (physical, emotional or both) – at Arrowhead Lodge Recovery our staff includes physicians and licensed therapists experienced in trauma recovery and pain management. Diagnosis and behavioral and mental health counseling is provided by licensed professionals. Treatment plans are individualized for each client, based on their specific needs.

We also provide addiction and depression treatment for men who are addicted to alcohol,  opioid-based prescription painkillers and other drugs. When indicated, we use suboxone treatment for managing opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Our goal is to assist men learn how to enjoy a superior quality of life

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery - Addiction Recovery Experiencing SpiritualityAt Arrowhead Lodge Recovery, we use a holistic multi-disciplinary holistic professional team approach to effectively treat addiction.

Limited to less than 10 participants, each client receives individual counseling and support from licensed medical, addiction and mental health professionals.

We address and treat underlying chronic pain conditions with non-addictive pain management and other proven alternative approaches to pain management. Components of our addiction, PTSD and chronic pain treatment plan include Mindfulness Training, Meditation Training and Co-occurring Disorders Treatment. Other important parts of our addiction recovery and rehab program include nutritional counseling and education, psycho-educational groups, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and healthy outdoor exercise in the forested mountains surrounding our rehab center.

Addiction Recovery Journey to Wholeness and Healing

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery, Mens Rehab, Thumb Butte TrailAt our mountain retreat facility near Prescott, Arizona – men find and strengthen inner peace, and experience tranquility.

We equip our clients with the depth and stability to handle all the curves and disappointments – as well as joys – in their regular daily lives once they leave Arrowhead Lodge Recovery.

Start your journey to addiction recovery by contacting Arrowhead Lodge Recovery.

Your confidentiality is assured when you contact us.

Speak personally and privately with Executive Director Dr. Kenneth Chance at (888) 654-2800.

PTSD Resources

Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress
“Courage to Talk” Campaign
Military OneSource
Bob Woodruff Foundation, Intimacy After Injury
History of PTSD in Veterans: Civil War to DSM-5, Matthew J. Friedman, MD, PhD., National Center for PTSD
PTSD’s Link to Sexual Problems Military Times, April 2015

Article Sources

Partners of Veterans with PTSD: Research Findings, Jennifer L. Price, PhD & Susan P. Stevens, PsyD
The Injury Afflicting Veterans That No One Wants to Talk About, For Veterans, Trauma Of War Can Persist In Struggles With Sexual Intimacy, Jan 2017
Wounded troops battle obstacles to sex and intimacy,
Military Times Dec 2014
Sexual Problems in Veterans with PTSD, >Matthew Tull, PhD, Updated August 24, 2016
DoD studies intimacy issues among combat vets, Military Times, March 2013


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