The rehabilitation of Ukrainian female and male veterans is one of the most important priorities, but so far few people have talked about sexual rehabilitation. When returning from the front, the military face various sexual disorders that they are ashamed to talk about. Experts emphasize that such disorders are normal, and there are many ways to return to an active sexual life.
After losing his arm and leg, soldier Vitaliy Mizin was able to resume sexual relations with his wife Yulia. He told his story of rehabilitation to Zaborona editor Svitlana Hudkova.
Vitaliy and Yulia Mizins overcame everything together
In May 2022, Vitaliy Mizin, a lieutenant of the 66th Separate Mechanized Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, was on the territory of a training center in the city of Desna, Chernihiv Region, when a Russian missile hit the barracks at night. The man suffered severe injuries: 2-3 degree burns of the head, torso, upper and lower limbs, and extremely severe burn shock. Doctors had to amputate his right upper and lower limbs.
“When I first came to my senses and saw my wife, I immediately asked if all my genitals were in place. This is probably the most important thing for a man, and it was a very important moment for me,” Vitaliy says.
Then the man had to undergo a long period of rehabilitation. As the soldier recalls, he was not too concerned about his sexual performance at the time. However he had some thoughts: “It happened that I had no morning erection, and I was a little worried about that. But I mentally said to myself: stop, you have such serious injuries, burns, you shouldn’t dwell on it, everything will be fine.”
And so it was. Vitaliy explains: first of all, you need to give your body time to recover because after severe injuries, the body fights for survival. Only after some time does it become ready to enjoy itself.
“When my physical health began to improve, my wounds began to heal, and my morning erection showed signs of life, then I wondered if I was staying for the sake of it, if I could satisfy myself and my wife. Because this is a significant area of interaction between spouses,” Vitaliy recalls.
It was his wife who became a great support and encouragement for him at all stages of rehabilitation after his terrible injury. Yulia also recalls that her first priority was her husband’s physical and emotional recovery.
“We lived one day at a time, rejoicing at Vitaliy’s every success, when he was able to sit or stand for the first time. We didn’t think about sex then. And when he was allowed to go home, when we wanted to lie down together, and cuddle, tenderness began to show, and it all came by itself. We became mentally ready for it,” says Yulia.
“We returned to the topic of sex for the first time after my injury in about four months,” Vitaliy recalls. “We talked with Yulia on these topics — not too openly, but I was already thinking about what positions were available to me, adequately assessing my capabilities, what I could and could not do. Then we discussed how we were going to try it and worked in that direction.”
Fortunately, Vitaliy and Yulia’s example shows that with mutual support, it is possible to return to normal life, including sexual life. Severe injury and amputation of limbs did not prevent the couple from having an active sex life and giving birth to their third child.
However, situations are different, and the couple emphasizes that the state should deal with sexual rehabilitation along with psychological or physiological rehabilitation.
“Information about sexual rehabilitation should be disseminated in the same way that first aid recommendations are now disseminated. At least in the form of a booklet, it should be available wherever our military are, where they are treated and rehabilitated. Many of them may not want to discuss it, but I’m sure they would take the brochure,” Vitaliy says.
Yulia is sure that people who cannot cope with the problem on their own, who have no relatives who can help, simply need expert advice: “Sexual rehabilitation is well developed abroad, there are whole centers that deal with this. In Ukraine, there is nothing like that, and the state should take care of it.”
Sexual rehabilitation in Ukraine
Unfortunately, sexual rehabilitation of the military is not provided at the state level in Ukraine. According to Ivan Dmytryk, a urologist, psychologist, and head of the Association of Resource Psychology and Psychotherapy and the Molfa Medical Center, at least 7,000 military personnel in Ukraine have genital injuries. Some soldiers have suffered contusions, brain and spinal cord injuries, and amputations, which also affect changes in their sexual lives in one way or another. This shows how large-scale the problem of sexual rehabilitation in Ukraine is, and the ongoing military operations will only exacerbate it.
In Ukraine, at least 7000 military personnel have genital injuries.
Fortunately, Ukrainian soldiers are mostly not afraid to talk about their problems. “They come and say: “I have no hard-on”. Or: “I come very fast, I come in 30 seconds, and it’s very good if I last 30 seconds.” And they talk about it,” Svyatoslava Fedorets, a sexologist and co-founder of the International Association of Military Rehabilitation Therapists, shares with Zaborona.
Sexual rehabilitation is primarily a lot of talking, she says. It is absolutely normal to talk through fears and insecurities, to learn to accept yourself and your body.
“For example, when a soldier has a limb amputated, he begins to doubt his sexuality and says that he will not be able to have a sex life. We can ask the question: who told you this, where did you get the idea that you have to have two arms or legs to have sex? Or that you can’t have sex if you don’t have a left hand? Who told you that?” explains the sexologist.
Unfortunately, in our society, a person with a disability and the concept of sexuality are perceived as mutually exclusive. People grow up with certain sexual scenarios in which only young, healthy, and beautiful people have sex. And when their bodies suddenly change after being injured, they no longer consider themselves sexy. “And then it makes sense to work with these scenarios, for example, by simply discussing the issues that bother the person,” the expert adds.
But the problem can be not only psychological but also physiological. Fedorets notes that as part of treatment, patients may be prescribed medications that have side effects, such as erectile dysfunction. Neither the doctor nor the patient may pay attention to this, and the result will be a deterioration in sexual life.
“Treatment follows a specific protocol, and this is understandable. But the doctor can help by prescribing medications that affect a particular sexual function, and warn about it. And in case of any changes, adjust the treatment regimen or change the drug. It will take literally 30 seconds, but it will be a great help. I want to highlight this problem, which the state should pay attention to and help us, specialists, to unite and do this work together,” explains the sexologist.
Foreign experience of sex rehabilitation
Israel can boast of rich experience in the field of sexual rehabilitation. There are centers there that bring together specialists in various fields and use many approaches to the sexual rehabilitation of the military. According to Fedorets, one of them is a surrogate sexual partnership.
A surrogate partner is a person who helps to solve problems in the sexual sphere, and this does not necessarily have to happen through an intimate relationship.
“Therapy can consist of going to a cafe, drinking coffee or wine with this person, maybe not even touching, but talking. And then everyone provides a certain report to the therapist, and this is a large amount of information that can be worked with. Of course, later there may be intimate connections. But all this is done not just to achieve ejaculation, but to restore sexual functioning and a sense of self as a sexual partner,” she explains.
The use of sex toys and various aids designed specifically for people with disabilities, as well as sex robots, is also developed.
If a couple is worried that they won’t be able to have children due to genital injuries, there is a practice of freezing biological materials from the military. In Ukraine, too, there are centers where sperm and oocytes can be frozen, including free of charge.
“And there is also a service where semen is extracted from the body of the deceased, and later it can be used for conception. Of course, this raises many moral and ethical questions, but it also has the right to exist,” the sexologist said.
Sexual disorders: advice from a psychologist
Svyatoslava Fedorets explains that sexual disorders are often the result of stress that soldiers experience while in the combat zone. In this case, some people stop wanting sex altogether, while others become hypersexual. Therefore, the sexologist advises not to panic, because after the stress has passed, in many cases sexual functions will be restored.
If the problem is deeper, Fedorets advises to see a specialist, but you should always ask about the specialist’s education to get quality services and not harm your health even more.
“There is another recommendation: if a soldier returns from service, he has a sexual desire, but his penis does not get hard, try to choose types of sex where an erection is not needed, where there is no penetration. Maybe it will be oral sex, stroking with your hands, or you will just hug your partner and talk about erotic topics. Try to include different sexual scenarios,” she says.
It’s worth understanding your partner’s sexual dysfunctions, which can be the result of stress. If a partner behaves aggressively during intercourse, this should not be ignored.
“So the recommendation here is to be gentle, tender, loving, and caring, but to persistently defend your boundaries. If you want sex, that’s fine, I want sex too. I don’t mind having sex with you, but only on terms that are comfortable for both of us. Just because she is a military wife does not mean that she has to tolerate any violence. A military man can rush and perform penetration for various reasons, for example, because he is worried about his erection. Therefore, partners need to talk,” says the sexologist.
Yulia Mizina adds that support in this matter is very important. The most important thing is to let a man recover physically and mentally to a state close to the one he had before the war or injury. And only then to establish a sex life.
“Women need to encourage men, not to be afraid that he has lost a limb or suffered any other injuries. They should touch if their partner wants and allows it. Look at him if it is pleasant for him. That is, do not push him away, but just be there for him and treat him as if nothing had happened. My husband remained the same, there were just some physical changes. But if you love your partner, you will accept him as he is,” Yulia Mizina inspires.