Dear Dr. Jenni,
My husband is a war veteran. He is a different man now since returning from Iraq. I believe he experienced some very traumatizing events, as he is closed off and very depressed. I think he has a brain injury too. We haven’t had sex since he returned eight months ago. He has zero interest, and when I initiate, he seems to be somewhere else as I touch him. How can we reclaim the intimacy we once had?
—Lost in the Trenches
It sounds like you both need to start having some honest heart-to-hearts to uncover what is happening for your husband. He may be experiencing depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and you mention that he might also have a brain injury. Keep in mind that veterans typically struggle to convey the severity and complexity of their war experiences to non-veterans, which can result in feelings of isolation and silence. Because of this, sex may be the last thing he wants when feeling stuck in his darkness. If he has a brain injury as well, this can also diminish sexual desire, and increase feelings of depression and/or inadequacy as a sexual person. Depression meds can alleviate the darkness, but some have side effects such as lowered sex drive and erectile issues that only exacerbate problems in sexual intimacy.
Unfortunately, many in the military return from overseas with little information about how to re-enter intimate relationships. The psychological impact of losing close friends in combat can make veterans hesitant or unable to connect to their loved ones because of fear that other important people may be lost as well. This may be causing his emotional and sexual cut-off.
Ultimately, increased communication is required to understand how to help your husband regain his sense of self, individually and as an intimate partner. Don’t be shy to make use of the medical system if you can. A doctor can help decipher if he has a brain injury, which may alter his treatment dramatically, as well as give you more answers to the changes in personality you seem to be facing. A counselor can help both of you facilitate a discussion around his experiences and potential injuries.
Consider this time an opportunity to learn about each other all over again. Eventually you can decide to go on dates, ask new questions and court one another. The more you learn, the more you are able to move forward and grow together.
Dear Dr Jenni,
My girlfriend likes to pluck my chest hair and beard. It seems very strange to me, plus it can be painful. I let her do this from time to time because it makes her giddy with excitement, and honestly, it seems like she is more receptive to having sex with me after she plucks. Is this some sort of fetish?
—Tolerating the Tweezers
Her behavior, though less than comfortable for you, is not abnormal. Grooming is common — businesses are built around this, like nail salons and hairdressers.
As for sexual preferences, she may enjoy the contact and closeness, which inspires her to be open to sexual intimacy; however, it doesn’t sound like a fetish. Clinically, a fetish is a physical object or specific situation that a person requires for sexual stimulation.
That said, while you are a patient and kind boyfriend, it sounds like part of you is trading sex for plucking. If this is not an arrangement you are willing to accept, then you might want to look at other ways you can inspire desire for one another.
Send questions for Jenni Skyler, Ph.D., to firstname.lastname@example.org. Skyler is a sex therapist and board-certified sexologist who runs The Intimacy Institute in Boulder, www.theintimacyinstitute.org.
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