Themes in experiences of PTSD symptoms and relationships among male veterans with risky sexual behavior

Psychol Trauma. 2020 Oct;12(7):678-686. doi: 10.1037/tra0000569. Epub 2020 Apr 27.


Objective: United States veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms are at elevated risk for high-risk sexual behavior (HRSB). Although quantitative research has examined relationships between PTSD symptoms and HRSB, qualitative research to understand the lived experiences of veterans with PTSD symptoms and HRSB has not been conducted.

Method: Qualitative interviews were conducted with N = 29 male veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom who had PTSD symptoms and reported recent HRSB. The interviews were analyzed using a phenomenological framework.

Results: Six themes emerged: (a) avoiding social contact due to feeling different since return from service; (b) effortful self-management; (c) supportive relationships; (d) sex as a means to an end; (e) sex, risk, and intimacy; and (f) responsibility and growth.

Conclusion: Male veterans with PTSD symptoms and HRSB reported engagement in significant self-management to reengage in life, and still reported high levels of difficulty in relationships. They described both wanting to avoid perceived risk associated with intimate relationships and wanting to take risks that caused them to feel alive. Implications for treatment include increased efforts to facilitate coping, to recognize and moderate risk-taking urges, and to build intimacy and trust. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Qualitative Research
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Unsafe Sex / psychology*
  • Veterans / psychology*
  • Young Adult