Mechanisms of the association between PTSD and sexual arousal and lubrication functioning among trauma-exposed female service members/veterans

Rebecca K. Blais, Elizabeth Bird, Annaliis Sartin-Tarm, Sarah B. Campbell, Tierney Lorenz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: The presence of a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis or higher PTSD severity is associated with higher overall sexual dysfunction in female service members/veterans. However, the mechanisms linking PTSD to specific components of women's sexual arousal function, like lubrication and mental arousal, are unknown. Methods: We conducted a survey among 464 women who reported probable Criterion A exposure for PTSD. Path analysis examined (1) the association of PTSD with sexual arousal, (2) whether specific PTSD symptom clusters were uniquely associated with sexual arousal, and (3) whether this association is indirect, through the effects of higher depression severity and lower romantic relationship satisfaction. Arousal was operationalized to measure both mental (subjective arousal) and physical (lubrication) experiences. Results: Higher PTSD severity was associated with lower lubrication and arousal function. The association of PTSD severity with arousal was indirect, through lower romantic relationship satisfaction (estimate: -0.12; 95% CI: [-0.014, -0.007]) and higher depression (estimate: -0.08, 95% CI: [-0.012, -0.002]). The association of PTSD severity with lubrication was also indirect, but only through lower relationship satisfaction (estimate: -0.10, 95% CI: [-0.013, -0.006]). PTSD symptom clusters were not uniquely associated with arousal and lubrication through mediated pathways. Limitations: Data were from a cross-sectional study using a convenience sample. Criterion A exposure could not be confirmed. Conclusions: PTSD may lead to arousal and lubrication dysfunction by contributing to higher depression severity and strained romantic relationships. Interventions targeting reductions in depressive symptoms and bolstering relationship satisfaction may minimize the burden of PTSD on sexual arousal concerns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)352-359
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
StatePublished - Mar 15 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Arousal
  • Depression
  • Lubrication
  • Military
  • PTSD
  • Relationship satisfaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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