Sexual Dysfunction in American Military Veterans

November 11, 2015

Today is Veterans Day and America salutes the men and women who serve. But does it understand them? Does it understand the sometimes subtle or hidden price these brave men and women pay for service to nation?

A recent study published from the Department of Veterans Affairs suggests that men who served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan can be at high risk for problems with sexual function. It suggests that the cause of these problems in these relatively young men may lie in traumatic injury, emotional distress, mental health conditions, the drugs used to manage these conditions, and social circumstances.

The study looked at sexual function when eight veterans came in for initial evaluation after their overseas deployment. Those whose initial screening indicated sexual dysfunction were invited to participate in further evaluation, including confidential, face-to-face interview with one of the investigators. These were semi-structured discussions that used open ended and followup to try to evoke the veteran's thoughts about his sexual dysfunction and what may have caused it. A similar technique was used to try to get at the implications for him and possible remedies. 

The study subjects talks about a number of issues including loss of libido, erectile dysfunction, delay in climax, premature climax, and distraction. They also discussed the importance of setting or context and how their sexual health changed over time. They noted their thoughts about what may have contributed to their dysfunction adn suggested that among the remedies for their dysfunction are medications, herbal remedies, and new positions and approaches to sexual activity. They talked about their interactions with their doctors and how this all affected how they viewed themselves and how it affected their partners and relationships. The authors concluded that veterans have negative effects on their health and relationships and suggest that health-care providers working with veterans take into consideration their sexual function. 

Physical and emotional trauma can impair sexual function. Combat theaters bring the most extreme forms of both. The authors shed light on what may be a subtle or even concealed consequence of combat related trauma and remind us of the importance of screening for sexual dysfunction. As America salutes its veterans, it seeks to better understand the price they pay in physical and emotional health and find better ways to help them get better.

Surgeo salutes the men and women who serve.

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