Getting out of the military is hard. By the time you’ve reached your end of active duty you’ll have spent years around people who dress the same, went to the same basic training, worked the same or a similar job, and understood even the most obscure jokes you made about military life. It’s a lasting change, and when you leave it behind it can be disconcerting to feel like the partner you’ve come home to is more of a stranger than Private Schmuckatelli who grew up 1,000 miles away. You feel like you’ve become a stranger in your own home.
If you’re a combat veteran, there can be an added complication to re-establishing intimacy, beyond that perceived disconnect. Now, you have to contend with the memories of rounds whistling by you, and the nervous anxiety of patrolling a street wondering if every piece of litter hides an IED. It all adds up, and for a combat veteran, intimacy can seem too much like letting your guard down. After all, it requires you to be vulnerable, and when you’re coming from a situation where letting your guard down call kill you and your friends, it’s hard to let go of that survival mindset.
And when you’ve been wounded in combat, vulnerability can be even harder to embrace. Added to all the above interference, you now may have a different physical appearance or ability that factors into the equation, with all its attendant psychological baggage. You may not recognize the person in the mirror as you—and how can you be intimate when you’re no longer you? No one would ever want to be with the stranger you see in the mirror, you think. Or if your body doesn’t work the same as it used to, how can sex or intimacy ever be the same? However, there are steps you can take to accept and embrace your situation, to thrive in this ‘new normal.’ There are ways to reconnect with your partner (and yourself), accept intimacy, and come to see the veteran in the mirror is you—a person deserving this love and affection.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is in the news nightly. There are countless studies on the subject, and there are even studies on how PTSD affects intimacy amongst veterans. With all this talk about veterans’ psychology, and all the effort being put into treating vets, it’s surprising how intimacy issues can still go unrecognized, and how long they can go untreated. What is often missed is context, and how things look from the veteran’s perspective.
Eventually, this can lead the veteran to wonder if their own family is better off without them. Veterans of any stripe may even find themselves driving their loved ones away. Out of a misplaced sense of self-sacrifice they may even think driving them away is an act of love. Nothing could be further from the truth. The very root of the problem is a failure to communicate, and with something as simple as telling your partner how the world looks through your eyes, you can begin to escape the trap, and get the intimacy and closeness you need to feel at home again.
The first step to restoring intimacy is to communicate the need to be needed. Communication is the only first step—there is no other way to resolve the misunderstandings that have arisen, or to keep them from happening in the first place. But putting away stubborn pride and admitting you want to know that you’re still wanted isn’t going to be easy.
Communication is only one step, though, and the only way you’ll get to a solution is to admit there is a problem. Colloquialisms aside, love isn’t a battlefield, and when you think you’re sucking it up, all you’re doing is hurting the people that love you. Unfortunately, wounded veterans face all the same psychological challenges as other veterans, and may have a physical impediment that makes intimacy a mechanical as well as emotional challenge. In male veterans with psychological issues that are causing them erectile dysfunction, this is especially difficult, as they’re not going to want to admit that they have a problem.
So what do you do? You need to find—or make—the time to talk to your partner about intimacy. You can start by setting aside a little time for just the two of you. I would suggest a movie night in to try and talk it over in private. If you can’t bring yourself to do this, then it might be time to consult a professional. Combat and wounded veterans are both eligible for free family counseling through the VA, and a professional can help you find the words to explain how you feel when you’re struggling to. Once you get started communicating, you may be surprised how easy the rest can be.
Service members are generally in pretty good shape, and generally take a certain amount of pride in it (and rightly so!). An injury can change that. It can change how you live (and love) your body, your life, and your whole sense of who you are. This can make performing sexually a challenge physically, but also mentally.
The three most common combat injuries can all bring their own challenges to the bedroom.
The physical hurdles of both the day-to-day and the bedroom can be overcome with the help of your occupational therapist and various aids (sex aids to be discussed below). The psychological hurdles, however, are the ones that might take a bit more work. If you need your partner’s caregiving help with basic tasks, this shift in roles might leave you feeling worthless and undeserving of intimacy—keeping you from trying to rebuild an intimate relationship. A partner who has taken on a caregiving role can end up feeling unappreciated, and like their partner isn’t attracted to them (when in fact the wounded partner just feels unworthy). Communication is key to making this known, and sex is a vital part of knowing for sure that these feeling are false.
Sex is a vital part of life. A veteran has already sacrificed years of their life for others, and wounded veterans have sacrificed a part of themselves, too. In either case, there is no need to sacrifice any more. Any injury sustained, whether physical or psychological (or both), is a challenge to overcome—not the end of life, or of your sex life. Counseling and communication help with the psychology of sex and intimacy, and devices can help with the mechanics of doing the deed.
In all cases, counseling and communication is the first step. However, it’s not an overnight cure. Communication drops barriers. It’s then up to you and your partner to cross the divide in a way that builds trust. Getting back into—ahem—action is a great way to do this.
The physical realities of a wounded veteran’s injuries might require some creativity, and alterations to the types of sexual activities you can (and want to) perform. There is a variety of sex toys and aids that can help with the physical mechanics of sex—and the psychology, too.
Erectile dysfunction in wounded veterans may result from injury or psychological hangups. Cock rings can help a man achieve and maintain an erection by constricting the blood flow out of the penis. Another option for a man who has difficulty achieving an erection is a hollow strap-on, where the man places his flaccid or semi-erect penis in the hollow dildo, and is thus still able to penetrate his partner.
Paralysis of the lower body or the whole body can leave veterans assuming that penetrative sex is no longer possible for them. This isn’t the case. Depending on the extent of the damage, reflex erections are still possible. Even when the damage prevents erections, devices that strap on to either the waist or thigh can let paralyzed men have penetrative sex with their partner.
Experimentation is recommended for any veteran—and really anyone—who wants to connect intimately with their partner. In cases of traumatic brain injury or spinal damage leading to paralysis, this is highly recommended. The pleasure centers of the brain can connect to different regions of the body, and a wounded veteran can find that they’ve developed a new erogenous zone, or that they can create one. A bit of tickling or sensory play might just lead to a pleasant discovery.
Positioning can be a problem for veterans with full or partial paralysis, or those that have had an amputation. Really, it can pose a problem for any sort of injury that hampers or changes your body’s movement. That’s where positioning devices and restraints (yes, those kinds of restraints) can help. You don’t have to be into BDSM to get a lot of great use out of these sex toys.
Finally, for all veterans: a reminder that meaningful, satisfying sex requires at least some vulnerability. It’s not easy, after being on your guard for so long, to let yourself be vulnerable. Start with communication, and work to bring a little play into the bedroom. For some, that’s as simple as bringing in a tickler to bring some laughter back into sex, and joy back into the relationship. Remember that what you loved in the person before deployment is still there (and the same with what they loved about you), and with understanding, communication, and the willingness to be vulnerable you can rediscover it. It may take some outside help to find, but once that intimacy is rediscovered, it can be explored, nurtured, and ultimately grow stronger than ever before.
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Sometimes, if you are suffering from chronic or acute joint or muscular pain, sex can be unpleasant, difficult, or even impossible. The pain of getting into the right position, thrusting, and moving in a natural rhythm with your partner increases existing discomfort. For people suffering from these conditions, sex might not seem worth it.
To us, that’s unacceptable.
How does that old phrase go?: Cleanliness is next to godliness, and whatever else you do, be certain to clean your sex toys. I think that’s it.
Properly cleaning sex toys isn’t hard work, but it is serious business. The consequences of not cleaning your sex toy are more significant than you might think. Sex toys come in a huge range of shapes and materials, and that will affect how you want to go about cleaning them. But there are some general tips to keep in mind, as well as specific instructions for individual materials.