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The Impact of PTSD on Sexual Desire

Posted on March 21, 2018

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One of the things I find most frustrating about living with PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) is the impact it has on sexual desire. I am a private person, and sex is a decidedly personal issue for many people, so I’ve put this topic off many times. However, the problems that PTSD can bring to partners aren’t going away on their own, so let’s explore the potential difficulties that PTSD symptoms can bring to a sexual relationship.

Why Does PTSD Impact Sexual Desire?

Even within loving, successful, long-term relationships, individuals with PTSD can experience significant fluctuations in sexual desire. I am not referring to a physical inability to perform sexually, but a cognitive barrier to engaging in sex. As an example, I go through cycles, from what I consider a healthy, average sex drive, to complete avoidance of any intimate contact. I’m not alone in this. Studies show that regardless of the type of trauma experienced, individuals with PTSD are three times as likely to suffer similar sexual dysfunction. According to researchers, one of the essential reasons for this is that PTSD symptoms can be in direct conflict with pleasure, intimacy, trust, and feelings of safety. The same arousal that occurs with sexual activity can also heighten involuntary reactions such as fear, self-loathing, or disgust. These reactions can manifest at any time.

Dealing with PTSD and Changing Levels of Sexual Desire

As with many of the symptoms and complications of PTSD, understanding how PTSD can disrupt sexual activity is a big step towards coping with it. In the midst of a romantic moment, a hidden trigger or unwelcome thought can cause an individual with PTSD to feel threatened or out of control. These feelings can initiate a flight response, dissociation, or any number of PTSD symptoms.

When triggered, a person with PTSD might shut-down and reject a partner without being able to explain why. Perhaps even worse, feelings of shame, fear of angering or of disappointing a partner, or insecurity can make one anxious and frightened for the stability of a relationship. In this situation, a triggered person may force themselves to continue with sexual activity even when they are finding it uncomfortable or unwelcome.

So when is it the right time to mention the sexual difficulties that accompany your PTSD? In the following video, I discuss the importance of speaking with a partner before problematic situations arise, how to repair the damage when a trigger catches you off-guard, and some added benefits to being open and honest with a partner about barriers to sexual interactions.

Talking about PTSD and Sexual Desire can Strengthen Relationships

By discussing with a partner how PTSD can flatline sexual desire on an involuntary, unpredictable basis, we open the door to understanding. We also increase the probability of more consistent sexual arousal over time. An individual with PTSD can let go of apprehension over deflecting a partner’s affection and stop making excuses to avoid intimacy, leading to more relaxed and natural interactions. If you struggle with PTSD and sexual arousal, you deserve a partner who can love and understand this difficulty for what it is, and who is willing to help you heal through this complicated issue.

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Author: Tia Hollowood

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