Impotence in returning soldiers who have had traumatic experiences

Impotence is a very common problem, which is most commonly associated with older men; however, research has shown that veterans and returning soldiers have an increased risk of erectile dysfunction. Erectile dysfunction occurs when a man is unable to get or sustain an erection.

What causes impotence and why is it more common in soldiers returning from combat?

Impotence is much more common than you may think and it has many possible causes; in some cases, impotence is a one-off, which is usually associated with a particularly stressful experience or drinking alcohol, but for some it is a persistent and long-term problem.

There are both physical and mental causes of impotence and both can affect returning soldiers. Soldiers serving in dangerous areas have a high risk of injury and injuries that affect blood flow around the body and the nervous system can cause impotence.

In many cases relating to soldiers who have recently returned from combat, the reasons for impotence are largely psychological; most soldiers have been through a lot and seen a lot of distressing sights and they may struggle to adjust back to ‘normal’ life and this includes their relationships.

How does stress and trauma affect erectile function?

Stress, anxiety and depression are among the most common causes of erectile dysfunction among younger men; stress and depression may affect libido, which means that the man will be disinterested in sexual contact and intimacy. There are also instances were a man has been a victim of sexual abuse or seen sexual abuse on another person and this can make them feel uncomfortable in intimate situations.

Depression is very common among soldiers and it can have a very negative impact on relationships; people who have depression struggle to adjust their mood, they may feel very low for long periods of time and they have little motivation.

For many soldiers coming back from war or combat brings a mixture of emotions; they may be glad to get home and feel safe, but they may also be mourning the loss of friends and comrades, they may be worried about fitting back into civilian life and they may be traumatised by their experiences. Some people have such high levels of anxiety that they are diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder.

What can be done to help returning soldiers?

In some cases, time is a great healer and some people just need a little time to get used to being back home and adjust to the daily routine of normal life. In other cases, professional help may be beneficial; this may involve therapy or counselling, relationship therapy and help with overcoming traumatic experiences, such as bereavement. There are also charities that can help and organisations, which deal specifically with military personnel and help them to deal with the difficulties they experienced while in combat and also the transition from military and civilian life.

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