Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a distressing condition that occurs after someone has gone through a particularly frightening or emotional trauma, such as witnessing violence, experiencing sexual abuse, or suddenly losing a friend or family member. PTSD may occur shortly after the event, or it might start years later.
People with PTSD may have flashbacks of the trauma and avoid things that remind them of it. They might also have nightmares, trouble sleeping and frequently feel scared, tense, or angry. Maintaining personal relationships may be difficult, and it may be hard for partners to understand the situation.
Many people with PTSD develop sexual problems. Some examples include:
- Erectile dysfunction (ED)
- Premature ejaculation
- Low desire
- Sexual pain, including vaginal pain, irritation, and soreness
- Sexual aversion (strong feelings of fear or disgust toward anything sexual)
- Avoidance of sex
It is common for people with PTSD to suffer from other mental health conditions – including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse – which can also affect sexual function and personal relationships.
In addition, medications used to treat PTSD can have sexual side effects, such as low libido, orgasm difficulties, ED, and vaginal dryness.
If you’re struggling with PTSD, ask your doctor for a referral to a mental health professional. PTSD is usually treated with medications, psychotherapy (such as cognitive behavioral therapy), or a combination of these approaches.
Your doctor and therapist can help you work through the traumatic experience and cope with PTSD symptoms so that you can nurture your relationships, sleep better, feel more relaxed, and stick with healthy habits like exercising and eating well.
If you have a partner, you might also consider having them attend therapy with you.
The Journal of Sexual Medicine
Arbanas, Goran, MD
“Does Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Carry a Higher Risk of Sexual Dysfunctions?”
(May 1, 2010)
Bornefeld-Ettmann, Pia, MSc, et al.
“Sexual Functioning After Childhood Abuse: The Influence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Trauma Exposure”
(April 1, 2018)
Yehuda, Rachel, PhD, et al.
“PTSD and Sexual Dysfunction in Men and Women”
(May 1, 2015)
National Institute of Mental Health
“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”
(Last revised: May 2019)
“PTSD Linked to Sexual Problems in Midlife Women”
(January 16, 2018)
“Veterans with PTSD Likely to Have Sexual Problems”
Bentsen, Ida L., MD, et al.
“Systematic Review of Sexual Dysfunction Among Veterans with Post‐Traumatic Stress Disorder”
(April 1, 2015)