Sex After Deployment: Tips for heating things up

Author: Dr. Julie T. Kinn is a clinical and research psychologist at the National Center for Telehealth & Technology (T2). She oversees development and utilization of Web-based psychological health resources.

Some couples don’t have sex on their wedding night. After a day full of stress, uncomfortable clothes, extended family and free-flowing alcohol, many people just need to go to sleep. Sex after deployment can be a lot like wedding-night-sex: A lot of anticipation, but not much enjoyment. Just like weddings, those first days home can be exhausting.

Even after settling into a routine, there are several reasons why sex after deployment may not be as enjoyable as you remember. Common post-deployment health issues influence sexual arousal. Pain, fatigue from lack of sleep, and antidepressants can reduce libido and get in the way of physical intimacy.

Stress can also interfere with your sex life. When you’re stressed, the sympathetic branch of your nervous system activates and turns on the “flight-or-fight” response. Your brain sends the rest of your body signals to prepare for battle. Glucose is released into your bloodstream and your muscles constrict. Essentially, your body is gearing up to either fight an enemy or run for it. So it makes sense that when you are significantly stressed – no amount of Barry White is going to help with your sex life.

Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) can make sex even more difficult. In addition to the fight-or-flight response, those with PTS sometimes experience sudden flashes of traumatic memories at unpredictable times. PTS related to a sexual trauma can be especially intrusive during intimacy.

Don’t give up. Sex is a great way to celebrate reuniting with your partner. It’s a natural mood elevator, it’s free and it’s more fun than exercise. [And if my kids are reading this, sex is boring and only for adults over age 30]. Many people experience difficulty having sex at some point in their lives, but almost all sexual dysfunction is either temporary or easily treated.

A few helpful tips:

1) Talk to your partner about sex. It can be embarrassing to discuss why you aren’t in the mood, but better to explain the situation than leave your partner guessing. The longer you wait to have an honest discussion, the more difficult it will become.

2) Set yourself up for success. Consider the ways that lack of sleep, drugs and alcohol could be interfering with sex. Are there other changes to your lifestyle that may be getting in the way of your sexual relationship? Think back on new medications, and changes to your diet or work schedule.

3) Find other ways to get close. For many couples it is easier to engage in physical intimacy when feeling emotionally intimate. Before initiating sex, make some time to flirt.

4) Talk to your health care provider. Again, sexual dysfunction is very common. Your provider can help determine if there are any physiological reasons why your sexual response cycle has changed.

What advice can you share for regaining the spark?