By: Dr. Rose Hartzell-Cushanick, Navy Spouse
Deployment is difficult on a relationship, even when the service member comes back safe. When a service member is injured, the lasting physical and emotional effects can create new challenges for relationships to overcome. Although it is not often discussed, these injuries can dramatically alter a couples’ sex life. If you find yourself to be the spouse of a wounded warrior or even if you are looking for ways to improve your sexual partnership, below are some ways you can help maintain, and reclaim sexual intimacy.
1. Sexual health is a right.
Advocate for you and your warrior’s sexual health. Everyone is entitled to continue an active and fulfilling sex life regardless of any physical or emotional trauma. Even men who have experienced spinal cord injuries can still have active sex lives with the help of modern medicine. The ability to have a healthy sex life can build your warrior’s confidence and assist in the healing process. Consider accompanying your warrior to their medical appointments and ask these doctors what treatments are available to assist you and your partner with improving sexual intimacy.
2. Take care of yourself.
Care for the caregiver is just as important as care for your warrior; the vast majority of caregivers are women who may be socialized to take care of others at the expense of themselves. Unfortunately this may lead to burnout and the development of a parental role with their spouse instead of a true partnership. As the spouse of a warrior it is important to take time to care for your own physical and emotional health. Don’t feel guilty about it; remember that the airlines expect you to put your mask on before helping others! The bottom line is that you need to fill your physical and emotional tank before expending that energy.
3. Seek support from others.
Don’t be afraid to reach out, ask for help, and seek assistance. Therapy is a great way to learn to adjust to changes in your life. Sex therapy specifically can help you and your partner to have open conversations regarding your sex life. It is a specialized field many don’t know exist.
4. Be creative with your sex life; think outside of the box.
Sexual intimacy after wartime trauma may also be challenging due to the physical injuries experienced on the battlefield. Couples may have to learn to get creative with positions or use sexual enhancement aids in order to overcome some of these challenges. With an open mind and a little experimentation, couples can create new ways of connecting and find a fulfilling sex life together. Don’t be afraid to do a little shopping/research on the web. Longing for ‘the way it was’ and not addressing the here and now will result in greater difficulties or problems down the road.
5.Encourage your warrior to talk to their doctor about the medications that they are taking.
Warriors who return back to their partners with PTSD or other emotional wounds may be prescribed medications such as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These medications can be very helpful in managing depression and anxiety but can also cause negative sexual side effects such as lowered sexual desire, erectile dysfunction, or difficulties with orgasm. Healthcare providers may not inform their patients regarding these potential negative sexual side effects. It is important that your warrior let their doctors know the effect that medications are having on their sex life and to ask for alternative medications or treatments if possible. Weighing the benefits and possible side effects of medication is a critical discussion you need to have.
Ultimately, reclaiming your sex life with the warrior you love will not happen over night. You and your partner must take some time to process the changes in your lives and grieve the loss of the way things used to be. With persistence, good medical care, therapy, support, and time you and your warrior can continue to have a happy, hot, and sexually satisfying relationship after an injury. Be strong and know that you can do this!
In order to find an AASECT Certified Sexuality Therapist in your area you can visit the following website: http://www.aasect.org/referral-directory. In addition, organizations such as the Hearts of Valor give caregivers a place to meet and learn skills from others who have been through similar experiences.
If you are unable to seek the help you need within the military healthcare system then seek outside assistance. You may want to download the information from http://www.sandiegosexualmedicine.com for treatments that are currently available. Also, don’t forget to address any of your own sexual problems or concerns.
Dr. Rose Hartzell-Cushanick is an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and practices at San Diego Sexual Medicine. She is also married to an active duty Officer in the U.S. Navy.