So, I’ve made a promise to do a piece on SEX and PTSD. How about those Canucks? How about those bears, cubs, yankees, bluejays, arsenal gunners, Geelong cats, or anything else other than this topic right? But lets scour the internet hoping someone finally takes a swing at it. So, I’m here. And I’m in a swinging mood. But not that kind of swinging mood.
Note from Kate: I asked, nay, begged Brian to write this for all those who over the years have asked me about sex and PTSD. Intimacy and PTSD. “Am I pervert? That’s what she said. Why do I need it this much?” and on, and on. I wrote a couple of years ago on Sex being the Number One Addiction in Policing. It did the rounds. Chaplains contacted me, Chiefs of Police, all agreed. But NOBODY from the psychological world followed up. Where are the research papers? Where are the conversations on Sex & PTSD? Crickets. Whilst I can give my perspective, it is that of a woman, and I wanted the men out there fighting this injury to know that they do not walk alone.
I’m taking a risk. I’m risking that a bunch of folks will think I’m just typing this to help my friends get laid. I’m risking the feminist hoard descending upon me as I dare to suggest that men need things other than meeting their woman’s needs: specifically, men don’t always want a long walk when their woman wants one, men don’t want a long talk when their woman feels like talking. Indeed if Kate’s experience of advocating for men’s needs is anything to go by, I risk being told that men’s needs and wants are irrelevant, unimportant and should be ignored. Being so bold as to suggest that physical needs are part of those needs, and they are game changers for the positive, or the relationship death knells if ignored, will gain scorn as well. What does he know? Who is he to tell me what to do in my own house? And I’ll admit, I come to this discussion unarmed. I have no powerpoint or pie charts at my disposal. But I do have some success in my own life as I’ve found a way to put the right foot in front of the left, and I have what I feel to be the best source of relationship advice for mental health you can ever find. I’m an advocate for Canadian forces veterans. I am a Canadian Forces veteran and I’ve been given a deep look into the most sensitive and personal aspects of the lives of hundreds of vets and their spouses. I use that, and not studies or graphs, as my basis for this.
Disclaimers: In order for this one sided chit chat to make any sense to you, I’ll need you to either agree with the following or at least suspend your belief system till your done reading. Here they go:
Disclaimer 1) I make many assumptions here and one is that you agree that human physical contact is a necessity. Maternity wards understand that with skin to skin contact between mother and baby. Armies understand that which is why they go through the intense buggerance of administering leave during deployments. It’s also why rules on contagion spread get relaxed as grandma holds your hand and takes her last breath. We need touch from birth to death and everything in between.
Disclaimer 2) There’s different versions of touch. I hug many people (not in a creepy way) but mom gets a different hug from my sons. My sons get a hug that can squeeze the pains of the world out of them, but that’s different from how I hug my woman. It’s just different. Chances are if you’re reading this you need that kind, or this has been forwarded to you by someone that needs that kind. For the record, I’m talking about that kind. The latter. The last one. The one were theres not a hairs worth of space between you.
Disclaimer 3) We, as adults, need sex. Our bodies are meant to do it. We require it. Perhaps not now, right here (there’s 7 kids in my backyard right now and Kate’s best friend is over so it’s not the time) but we need it.
Disclaimer 4) PTSD is a bitch. It robs you of your ability to feel real, human, and normal. But there’s only a couple times in a man’s life (sorry ladies, male perspective is all I offer here) where we can turn our brains off and just live in the moment. Art does it ( I can’t draw). Music does it (I can’t sing). Einstein used to get into this mode when he was doing math (I’m not Einstein, and although I think I know what the theory of relativity means, I’m not absolutely certain). Across the species, I can tell you one moment when we men get to turn our brains off. All of it and all of us. Even the hurting part. It’s the one time when it’s just my body, my spinal responses coming back to my body (men’s sexual responses can actually bypass our brains): your body, and nothing else. If you lived in our wounded minds you’d crave the hell out of that silence. That beautiful, clear and unfortunately rare moments of silence when the brain just stops doing other things.
Disclaimer 5) The feminists of the world will be twitching in their straw panties about this but here it is. Men enter into long term relationships for a number of reasons, one of which is regular, predictable and long term access to a female body. We enter relationships for guaranteed sex. Tell me I’m wrong if you must, but skip this piece and save yourself the time if you haven’t accepted this yet.
Note from Kate: I have met with some serious rage from women when I’ve suggested that men marry for sex, a steady supply of sexual contact. The idea that this is a fact creates a seismic shift in the feminist accepted wisdoms. So be wary on this point, and prepared for a backlash. Do as I do and shake it off. There are basic truths to life and this is one.
And we like sex too, just as sex.
You may have noticed a joke or two in this piece. I like to joke, but the truth is I’m telling more little jokes for the same reason you probably haven’t had this conversation with the person you need to have it with. It’s uncomfortable. But you are reading it word by word I hope, for the same reason I need to type it. We need to talk about it. So feel free to forward this and blame me, but perhaps use it to learn from my story because I’ll guess it’s a bit of your story as well.
Quantity is quality. I can not possibly stress this enough. We need it. We’ve always needed it since we were teenagers. The fact we didn’t have it then might explain why we acted as stupid as we did as teenagers. That drive is still there. We need it for the same biological reasons that others do. But we also need it for the silence. Go ahead and be vocal, and tell us how amazing we are and holler like a hyena if you must. I didn’t mean be silent. I mean our silence. We sometimes need to just sleep in our heads, yet sleep often brings more traumatizing moments than being awake does. So in that regard, we can’t get enough breaks. So to further that point, we can’t get enough for both the physical reward and the mental break. DO NOT WORRY ABOUT BEING AMAZING. Don’t worry about whether you showered or about your flabby ass either. Amazing sex is great, but we don’t need that. Just be predictable. If we know that it’s safe to ask, and that even if you’re not ready to swing off the chandelier, you’re giving us the green light; I assure you that needs are being met. Happy days and smiles all around. I’ll even go further. You could probably read a magazine, or start a new painting and we wouldn’t care. We will be more than happy to satisfy quality down the road, or right now. But we need the quantity. We need the break.
You’re the one. You’d know if you weren’t. But for us, there’s some emotions that seldom get reached, other than a physical sexual relationship. Since PTSD destroys a lot of the normal brain connections I’ll go a step further (not a doctor here) and suggest that its next to impossible for us to access those emotions that you yourself are wishing for us to feel if there’s not a regular access to you.
Note from Kate: what Brian is referring to here is the inability for many with PTSD to access their injury and put words to it. One easy step around this for us spouses is to release those happy hormones that sex gives, boom. Just like that those channels are open. If you want to know more about what he’s thinking, what he’s feeling, get your physical relationship on a regular daily (yes daily at a minimum) schedule. Miracles do happen with a little shove.
Sex disarms us. It also de-shields (new word) us. This isn’t just the act itself but all the incidental contact with our woman. So I have a few drills (yep, old habits die hard) for spouses to try for their person who is suffering. Sometimes questions about “how we are doing” can feel like an interrogation. Drill 1. The seated position. So the next time you’re sitting down on the couch and you ask us “how are you feeling” and you get the usual “fine”, try flopping your legs over his, increasing the body contact as much as you can and ask the exact same question again. Grab his arm and push it into your chest (the boob part) and he will immediately know that there’s no threat at all and you are talking directly to his heart. This works whether or not you feel like your breasts are the size of cantaloups or two aspirins were dropped on a ironing board. It doesn’t matter. That’s a part of your body that passes a message to his body, no matter what. That physical contact takes a question whose words can feel like we are exposing ourselves and drop the threat feeling completely. You can put us in a completely different level of comfort, thus level of trust in your questions just by the semi-sexual body contact. Drill 2. Standing. Go ahead and ask from a meter away (yard and a bit for you yanks yet to to absorb the metric system) and see if I’m ok to drive, ok to get the groceries, ok to take the kids to school etc. Basically, anything that he is used to just telling you “I’m good” so you’ll leave him alone and let him get on with it. Then, walk up to him, take both his hands and put them on your hips while standing in his personal space and look him in the eyes and ask him the same question. Trust me, it’s now a different question. A soft hand on his chest might help too, but for me no where near my face or neck. That brings threat feelings. I just want the happy feelings here.
Note from Kate: Brian often had terrible nightmares when we first got together, they have lessened significantly over our time together likely as a result of the comfort that physical closeness gives. He stops breathing and he stops moving. There were nights I lay awake just shaking him to get him to breath again, then I hit upon a very simple way to get through to his traumatized brain. Each man is wired differently but one thing they all have in common is a love of breasts, they work like magic. If your man is having a terrible flashback or in a nightmare, trust me on this, you can use them and they work.
Another tip I’d give is to wear the things that he likes to see you in. When we were first introduced it was a sweaty hot Toronto August day, I was wearing summer dresses because they are cool and I was dying. Red heads don’t like heat. Now? When I go shopping with him, he picks out what he would like to see me wearing. Simple dresses that appeal to him. It is a very easy way for me to say “I love you, and I’m thinking about you” when I put it on. That is something nobody else has a clue about, only you two do. Hair, nails, all those girlie things. Whatever it is. Do it.]
When you get a new job, or meet a new friend chances are an ice breaker is coming. You know, the cheesy outings or silly games that people play to get to know each other. Well, it turns out that they actually work. Our relationships need that constant ice breaker. Sex fills that role and for the injured mind, it does need to be fairly constant. Its a ready and present reminder that this is the one; this is the person that you can be exposed with, open up to, rely on , lean on etc. It can be a chicken and egg game too with one needing the physical attention before the emotional lets loose and the other wanting the heart connection before the bodies connect. End that game. There is no easier way to walk into the house and reassure your wounded partner that its you, you’re here just like you were yesterday and you’ll be here tomorrow than just a couple of seconds (literally 5 seconds will do) of physical contact of the sort that is only between the two of you. You figure out what works for you. I’ve got a couple things that the lady and I do to remind both our brains that its us against the world, and I’ve got you.
Note from Kate: building a shorthand, a language that is simply your own. A language that only you two understand but accesses happy physical memories, when repeated often enough it creates a very effective shorthand in a traumatized brain to a better place. When Brian is driving or we are in company and I can tell from his body, his breathing or the areas on his body that become inflamed when stressed, I can whisper those things or touch him in a way that instantly triggers him back to relaxed, happy mode. For the spouse of a man with PTSD I’d strongly recommend the creation of these networks and fallback modes.
The cold shoulder is evil. It’s a weapon and you know it is. So unless you want a relationship where he takes your vulnerabilities and throws them back in your face, do not use it ever. If you catch yourself doing it, undo it and apologize. When we approach you for contact, we need it and you may not be able to give it and that’s fair. But the silent treatment followed by your body being a no-go zone sends an instant flood of threat (not just frustration or anger, but threat) signals all over our body and brains. But you still need and deserve your space, so in the instance that you need it I suggest you refer to the above drills. Before claiming the space you need, try telling him WHILE TOUCHING, that you need some alone time and a completely different message will be passed. It says that touching is welcome, just not now, but it will be soon. That’s massively different to the threat warnings going through his head when he walks into the room and you’re unavailable to him and he doesn’t know why. His connectors in his brain are now both damaged by PTSD, and reconnected to places they shouldn’t be connected too. Trust me on this, your great little idea of how to score a hit on him and teach him a lesson just put your whole relationship at risk. Your body is a ‘safe place’. Like a rocket bunker. If I came around the corner of a building in Afghanistan during a rocket attack and found the bunker I expected to go into had caution tape all around it, I would not be curious about what happened. I would not be reexamining my day to see if it was something I said, could have done, did do etc. I’m now in threat mode. That’s the mode you put him in when you use withholding physical contact to teach him a lesson. It’s a threat. Not a threat to you. But yes, a threat to the relationship. DO NOT USE THE WITHHOLDING OF SEX AND CONTACT TO TEACH US A LESSON. WE DON’T LEARN THAT WAY WHEN THERES EMOTIONS ATTACHED. It may help you prove a point, but in PTSD brain you’ve done damage that’s risky to the whole house of cards.
Note from Kate: I have done this to Brian twice with disastrous results. The first I was fed up with the outside stressors. I am used to being able to shake toxic people off, not being able to do this made me angry. I took that anger out on Brian by literally giving him a cold shoulder and refusing to communicate, using our packing of our rental property (moving into our newly renovated home) as the excuse to do so. It literally triggered him to hell. He went upstairs to gather some boxes and when returning he face surfed down the stairs. He hit his head at the bottom of the stairs and I found him crumpled, triggered straight back to Kabul.
On the second time, again it was the external influencers on our family that came up. I was disgusted by that, and instead of focusing the feelings of horror at the source, I turned it on Brian. I shut down. I simply closed down and wanted nothing to do with any of it: putting physical distance between us. Again, he was triggered to a terrible place.
It isn’t easy controlling my natural instinct to pull away physically, shut down. It isn’t a “punishment”, it is a tool I have used my entire life. Simply shutting down. Closing up shop and putting a “fuck off world” sign up. That has to stop. I have to find a way to push through that instinctual behaviour because of the horrendous impact it has on the man I love. Not a simple task and one I will need professional help with. Undoing a lifetime habit and re-engineering a better, healthier one is a tough gig.
Build up a bank. This has become a bit of a joke in our relationship but we’ve got to a place where we essentially can treat sex and body contact like a bank. Men like direction, and men suffering from operational stress injuries like it as well as others if not more so. They also like certainty, predictability and regularity. And lets be honest. You may not feel like it all the time, we get it. There needs to be space, for space. Just try to end the “not now” with a general time frame as to ‘when’. It’s like when we ask where you want to go for dinner and you say “ not italian”, or with directions driving and you say “don’t turn at this light.” Don’t tell us what not to do, tell us what you do want. So, words like “don’t do it like that” or “not like that” or “be more romantic” means absolutely zero to us. We need to know when something will happen, not when it won’t. So we need to hear “let’s try the Mexican place”, or “turn left on 56th ave” or “I need space now, let’s try once the kids are in bed.” And in bed, your PTSD man has a brain wired even simpler that the non injured guy you used to know. But he still wants you. So use words like “left, right, up, down, here” for directions. “More “ works too. Treat it like a bank and there will be happiness ( the bank is closed now, but will re-open for business tomorrow). There will be happiness because you are being predictable. Drop the modern crap of spontaneous. If spontaneous happens, well yeah for you. But surprises normally get a threat response from his brain now. “Lets go upstairs now and have sex” has no threat.
Note from Kate: anybody who knows and loves somebody with PTSD will know that language often has zero meaning, zero impact. Physical touch is where it’s at. The body remembers. The body remembers trauma but it also remembers pleasure and safety, creating avenues of happy hormones is an incredibly powerful healing tool.
Incidental contact. This is one of the biggest things to work on. Bump into me in the hallway. And when you do, hang out there for a second so I know you meant it. Put your leg on mine for a second or two under the dinner table. Do the kisses and hugs that linger around for a bit. Push your body into mine so I know it’s not a grandma squeeze. My partner and I routinely go around the corner for a second and build up the bank of contact. It’s not sexual, but it is at the same time. You have to remember that trauma ages you, and age ages you too. So if your man has been in a heavy rotation of deployments, or is now in year three of his stint in the police TAC team, or is now in the jails cell extraction team for mental health inmates, he has both aged traumatically and just plain old aged. His body may not need the same level of sex from years ago, but then again he may actually need it more. He may need sex again and again just for what it is, and now need it for the silence in his brain that it brings, and now also need it just to remind himself that he’s still a human. So don’t misread his increased need for sex as a problem. Rather, try see it as the blessing that it is in that he’s got all kinds of grief and that you and you alone hold the key to giving those a reprieve. But what if you can’t? If that isn’t in the cards now and sex just can’t happen today (sick, upset, dog died, whatever) give him as much incidental contact as you possibly can. All kinds of crazy things happen in the wounded mans brain; you know that. So bypass it , and talk to his body. His body will sort out his brain. Build up the bank, and give as much incidental contact as you’re comfortable with, talk to him about your need for a break while touching him and you’ll be getting actual communication to his brain, through his body, that doesn’t bring out a threat response. When my partner goes for a walk, I have no idea what the hell just happened or is going to happen. That does a number on me and puts my brain in a terrible place. But when she pushes her body into mine, lets me squeeze her butt and tells me she needs to go for a walk just to clear her head there’s no shield. There’s no threat . I don’t act like I need to be armed because I don’t feel attacked. She then walks, returns, life goes on. Because before she took her break, she took the time to build up the bank through incidental contact.
Note from Kate: one thing I am careful to do is create boundaries for myself. When I need time out, I take it. It’s a balancing act and requires a lot of giving on my part often, but equally I get so much in return. This is the man I love, it’s really as simple as that. This post is about men and especially those who have PTSD, and their needs. Doesn’t mean either of us are unaware of the other side of this issue. It is the first foray into this area and one I hope will garner interest, questions and will be followed up. It is NOT a weapon to be used in your relationship. You chose each other for a reason, PTSD often smashes through that beautiful house you built with your mutual love, and we’re hoping by tackling this subject openly and honestly, that we help others find their way to content and renovating that house of love you share.
One thing that I’d say is the take home: never leave him “hanging”. He needs to know he will have sex with you again. This might sound odd but it’s a thing. The stress for him of not knowing is a totally unnecessary negative for his PTSD brain.
So, that’s it for now. We’ll leave it at that today. But we will go there again if needed. You don’t open this can of worms without knowing that it’s going to push a few buttons, but we also don’t get progress by dancing around the issue. This is a big deal. Huge. And for me, there’s still struggles but life has moved in the right direction. I’m at peace more, my guts bleed less (yes, thats a thing for me), and I’m happier. Not because I get what I want all the time , but rather theres someone there who actually understands what I’m asking. Questions if you got them, points if you got them, things that worked for you if you got em. Cheers. I’m now going to watch game of thrones. Working my way through season 4.
Brian worries more about the hate mail. I, as anybody who knows me will tell you, chose a long time ago to tell some ugly truths. How could this be seen as an “ugly truth”? laughing.