PTSD and Sexual Problems are Linked, Study Says

PTSD and Sexual Problems are Linked, Study Says

Sexual problems are often found in patients with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A recent study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine has examined the reasons why.

PTSD is a mental health condition that follows an extremely traumatic event. For example, war veterans who have had terrifying experiences during combat may develop PTSD. It can also happen after a rape or other type of violent assault, a natural disaster (such as a hurricane or earthquake), or a severe accident. Sometimes, PTSD occurs when one has witnessed such an event.


Why are sexual problems are often found in people with PTSD? (Click to tweet)


People with PTSD may have flashbacks or nightmares of the trauma. They may avoid anything that reminds them it, like the parking lot where a rape occurred or the site of a car crash. And they may feel anxious, tense, or ashamed.

With PTSD, these feelings remain even after the danger has passed.

In this study, the researchers wanted to learn more about the connection between PTSD and sexual problems. They looked at past research on the subject, focusing on the biological and psychological processes involved with PTSD and sexual function and how those systems might interact.

Biologically, they found that the hormonal and neurological circuitry needed for good sexual function are similar to those affected by PTSD. A person will have trouble becoming interested in sex and physically aroused if those networks are already damaged.

Physiological arousal plays a role in both PTSD and sex. But the body may interpret sexual arousal as a threat and the resulting fear may be stronger than any sexual feelings or bodily response.

Psychology is another important consideration. PTSD patients often have trouble with intimacy and trust. They may not feel safe enough to let themselves enjoy a sexual experience. The idea of “letting go” and reaching orgasm may be frightening for them. They may feel that they’re not worthy of their partner’s attention or angry with partners for initiating sex. Or they may be so numbed by trauma that they don’t feel anything at all.

There are other aspects of PTSD that can affect sex as well. Depression – and the side effects of some antidepressants – can worsen the situation. Partners may not understand the reactions of someone with PTSD, straining the relationship.

It’s important for doctors to note this link between PTSD and sexual problems, the authors noted.

“The treatment of PTSD must include attention to sexual dysfunction and vice versa,” they wrote.


The Journal of Sexual Medicine

Yehuda, Rachel, PhD, et al.

“PTSD and Sexual Dysfunction in Men and Women”

(Full-text. First published online: April 6, 2015)

National Institute of Mental Health

“What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?”