Back to Top Skip to main content

Let's talk about sex, occupational therapist says

Occupational therapist Kathryn Ellis meets with a patient at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. (Courtesy photo) Occupational therapist Kathryn Ellis meets with a patient at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. (Courtesy photo)

Recommended Content:

Warrior Care

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Even under the best circumstances, talking about sex can be difficult. Imagine, then, how service members who’ve experienced a physical or psychological injury might feel about the topic. Helping wounded warriors address sex and intimacy is the mission and – pardon the expression – the passion of Kathryn Ellis.

“The cultural stigma that it’s not OK to talk about sex runs really deep,” said Ellis, an occupational therapist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Health professionals may avoid the subject because they don’t feel either competent or confident to deal with it, she added.

“Maybe they feel like they’re not allowed to bring it up, or it’s not appropriate, or the patient doesn’t want them to,” she said. “But we need to treat sex and intimacy as any other valued conversation we have with service members.”

Ellis has been working at Walter Reed Bethesda since 2011. “She’s very knowledgeable on this topic,” said Laurie Lutz, chief of training, education, and simulation at the Extremity Trauma and Amputation Center of Excellence (EACE) at the Defense Health Headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia.

“She’s the one we reach out to for clinician education,” Lutz said.

EACE was the primary sponsor of this year’s Federal Advanced Amputation Skills Training symposium, which brought together health and wellness experts throughout the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration to communicate best practices in caring for wounded warriors and others with limb loss. Amputation is a catastrophic event causing impaired mobility and possibly secondary health and psychological issues, Lutz said.

Ellis was one of the featured speakers at the symposium. During her presentation, she paraphrased pioneering sex researchers Masters and Johnson: “Absence of sensation doesn’t mean absence of feelings. Inability to move doesn’t mean inability to please. Inability to perform doesn’t mean inability to enjoy. Loss of genitals doesn’t mean loss of sexuality.”

Along with holding a master’s degree in occupational therapy, Ellis is certified in sexuality counseling from the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. But this certification isn’t required for OTs to address intimacy, she said.

“Occupational therapy focuses on the physical, cognitive, and emotional components of the activities humans find meaningful,” she said. “Successful rehabilitation is resuming satisfying experiences in valued life occupations, including sexual activity and intimate social participation.”

At Walter Reed Bethesda, sex and intimacy is addressed in occupational therapists’ standard evaluation of clients. “We bring it up to identify particular concerns and needs, and then get clients connected with the services they might need,” Ellis said.

Other professionals may be brought in, including physical therapists, urologists, and behavioral health providers. Wounded warriors may face physical and psychological issues that can impact intimacy and sex, including bowel and bladder dysfunction, decreased energy, loss of sensation, memory problems, and poor self-image.

“A key focus is to improve our clients’ self-awareness and confidence so they can communicate more effectively what they desire in an intimate relationship or during a sexual encounter,” Ellis said.

And that’s important, she said, because positive intimate and sexual experiences lead to an overall better quality of life.

“I always encourage OTs and other health care providers to look at intimacy and sex from a wellness promotion point of view,” she said.

Ellis said sex and intimacy after physical or psychological injury may be more complicated than before the injury, and it’s certainly different.

“But I do think it’s possible that it can be better,” she said. “Our goal as occupational therapists is to give wounded warriors skills they can utilize as they recover to help them maintain positive sexual encounters and intimate relationships throughout their lifespan. And that’s the true success of OT intervention.”

You also may be interested in...

Labyrinth: This path is made for mindful walking

Article
9/27/2018
Wounded warriors at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence are introduced to the indoor labyrinth during early days of their four-week intensive outpatient treatment program. (Photo courtesy of NICoE)

NICoE uses ancient symbol to promote healing

Recommended Content:

Warrior Care | Traumatic Brain Injury | Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapy

Soldier amputees have options for continued service

Article
9/17/2018
Army Col. Todd R. Wood, commander of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, administers the oath of re-enlistment to Army Staff Sgt. Brian Beem, left, then a cavalry scout assigned to the 5th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, at Forward Operating Base Frontenac, Afghanistan, Nov. 9, 2011. Beem is a single-leg amputee who was able to continue to serve despite his injury. He lost his leg after an improvised explosive device detonated during his 2006 deployment to Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Thomas Duval)

The will to serve alone is not enough to overcome the severity of their injury

Recommended Content:

Warrior Care

All in with medical support during Warrior Games

Article
6/5/2018
About 60 medical professionals in the Military Health System have volunteered to work at the DoD Warrior Games to support competitors including Army 1st Sgt. Jay Collins (above), who's scheduled to run, cycle, and row - among other events - as a member of the U.S. Special Operations Command team. (Photo courtesy USSOCOM Office of Communication)

Altitude will be latest challenge for athletes

Recommended Content:

Warrior Care

Best job in military health? For these men, it’s nursing

Article
5/8/2018
Nurse Manny Santiago (right) with retired Marine Corps Sgt. Carlos Evans in October at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Santiago said he “had the privilege of taking care of this young man” after Evans stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in May 2010 during his fourth combat deployment. The two men discovered they’re both from the same hometown in Puerto Rico. (Courtesy photo)

Males outnumbered, but odds are better in MHS

Recommended Content:

Warrior Care

Second lady Karen Pence advocates art therapy for wounded warriors

Article
2/8/2018
Second Lady Karen Pence (right), speaks with Army Col. David Gibson, commander of the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, during a roundtable discussion about the National Intrepid Center of Excellence Satellite Center's art therapy program at Fort Hood, Texas. Pence has been touring Creative Forces Military Healing Arts networks at military facilities as part of her advocacy for the use of art therapy to help heal service members suffering from traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. (U.S. Army photo by Patricia Deal)

Pence's passion is driven by the human and scientific evidence of art therapy's healing properties

Recommended Content:

Warrior Care

Year in Review: Innovations aid warfighters, families

Article
12/26/2017
Blue light produced by smartphones and computer monitors interferes with the brain’s production of melatonin, the hormone that makes people sleepy. The Navy’s Bureau of Medicine is working on lens tinting to block blue light and enhance the sleep of service members. MHS announced this innovation among many others in 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Greg L. Davis)

MHS explores world-class solutions for beneficiaries

Recommended Content:

Military Health System Electronic Health Record | MHS GENESIS | Warrior Care | Medical Research and Development | Sleep

2017 Year in Review: Places where Military Health System leaders, experts gathered

Article
12/21/2017
Navy Vice Adm. Raquel Bono, director, Defense Health Agency, speaks at the Defense Health Information Technology Symposium, July 25, in Orlando, Florida. Conferences like this one help MHS and other health care personnel to exchange ideas and information to help improve care to beneficiaries. (Courtesy photo)

Conferences offer opportunities to focus on the best health care for beneficiaries

Recommended Content:

Innovation | Military Health System Electronic Health Record | MHS GENESIS | Extremity Trauma and Amputation Center of Excellence | Warrior Care

Invisible wound, visible effects: TBIs need medical help – and the sooner, the better

Article
12/13/2017
Traumatic brain injuries can happen anywhere. Regardless of how or when, all TBIs need medical attention, experts warn. (Photo courtesy of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center)

The road to recovery for a traumatic brain injury starts with an evaluation. Regardless of severity or cause, all TBIs require medical attention, experts warn.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury | Warrior Care

Invisible Wounds, Invisible Care

Infographic
12/8/2017
Invisible Wounds, Visible Care: A Road to Care and Recovery. 1. Seek Care: Are yo or someone you know showing symptoms of an invisible wound? Seek care early and often. Many resources are available to support you and your family. 2. Receive Care: Connect with medical and non-medical services that will assist you throughout the care process, help you build a care management team, and support your recovery. 3. Continued Care: Continue recovery while reintegrating into your unit or transitioning into civilian life.

This infographic outlines the Air Force Invisible Wounds Initiative and offers a list of resources for wounded warriors and their families.

Recommended Content:

Warrior Care

Osseointegration

Video
12/8/2017
Osseointegration

Doctors at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, are adapting technology developed in Europe called Osseointegration. The technology allows the attachment of prosthetics directly to a patient's skeleton.

Recommended Content:

Extremities Loss | Warrior Care

Community, innovative collaborations are themes at third annual International Warrior Care Symposium

Article
12/6/2017
Air Commodore Rich Withnall, United Kingdom WC21 co-chair (left), Harjit Sajjan, Canada’s minister of national defence (center left), Dr. Dorothy Narvaez-Woods, special assistant to the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs (center right), and Mr. Bret Stevens, U.S. WC21 co-chair (right) pose for a photo following Minister Sajjan’s  keynote address. Senior representatives from 14 attending nations discussed their nations’ strategic priorities for warrior care. (Canadian Armed Forces photo by Corporal Lisa Fenton)

Community, innovative collaborations are themes at International Warrior Care Symposium

Recommended Content:

Warrior Care

Doctors use cutting-edge research at Navy hospital

Article
12/6/2017
Chad Rodarmer, traumatic brain injury clinic program manager, demonstrates tracking a patient's eye movement at Naval Medical Center San Diego, California. (DoD photo by EJ Hersom)

The Navy is developing and using cutting-edge research to better help service members, their family members and retirees

Recommended Content:

Technology | Warrior Care | Traumatic Brain Injury

Acupuncture: Ancient technique complements modern medicine

Article
11/29/2017
Army Col. Dean Hommer (left), a visiting instructor from Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, observes as Navy nurse Lt. Rachael Wheelous (right) practices the battlefield acupuncture technique on Navy nurse Lt. Brent Pavell (center) during training at Naval Health Clinic Corpus Christi, Texas. (U.S. Navy photo by William Love)

Procedure has a role in easing pain, advocates say

Recommended Content:

Warrior Care

Care Loop

Video
11/29/2017
Care Loop

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mariana Carrano’s business is patient care. She’s one of four Air Force liaison officers with the 86th Medical Squadron at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, a short drive from Ramstein AB. As an LO, as they are often called, Carrano is responsible for taking care of a patient throughout the entire care loop – from the moment he ...

Recommended Content:

Access to Health Care | Warrior Care

Service members share ‘art’ of healing

Article
11/28/2017
Air Force veteran Adrianna Ruark works on a drawing. (DoD photo by Roger L. Wollenberg)

Service members, veterans and caregivers shared how using art helps their recovery

Recommended Content:

Warrior Care
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 6

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing: Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.