Deployment Relationships

Keeping Your Sex Life During Deployment


by Heidi Russell Rafferty

Use personal objects to feel physically close.

Sleep with your husband’s shirt that smells of his cologne-“anything tactile that will evoke memories,” Kanaris says.

Jill* sent her husband a pillowcase that featured her photo and the phrase “Sleep with me at night.” Because he’s a medic who frequently travels on missions, she also sent him a clipboard with her picture attached to it. Most importantly, both husband and wife made a recording of their voice and agreed to play it if they were having a bad day. When Jill was unable to talk to her husband and felt she needed to hear him, she just turned it on.

Another tangible item is a ripped page from a sex journal, Davidson says. “Keep a diary of all of your sexual thoughts that come to mind over the period of a week or a month. Then send it to him. That’s a level of intimacy that couples don’t have on a regular basis. It’s a peek inside your mind in a way he ordinarily doesn’t see,” she says.

Use technology to discuss things other than your mortgage.

Couples often feel they should use precious phone minutes or short email access to discuss their child’s grades, bills, flat tires-anything but sex.

Here’s where the Dirty Thursday concept comes into play [see page 2!]. Don’t feel guilty about using today’s technological tools of instant messaging, email and cell phones to communicate racy feelings, therapists say. You could even take it a step further: Jill uses her web cam to flash her husband now and then.

If you’re concerned about eyes prying into your spicy emails, or someone walking into your video teleconference at the unit, create code words. Susan’s email subject lines would read, “Here’s some FUN mail for you.” Filters pick up obvious words, which then trigger computer monitors to delve into your secret messages. So if Susan wrote about sex she inserted dollar signs and ampersands within each word.

Davidson advises to “just get over” the fear of someone else reading your mail. “You know what? Screw it,” she says. “If they want to get off on your fantasies, more power to them. You have nothing to be ashamed of, and at most, they’ll say, ‘Wow, isn’t he lucky?'”

One caveat: If dirty talking wasn’t part of your sexual repertoire before your husband left, check to make sure both of you are open to it, Kanaris says. If you were nonverbal before, your sudden chattiness might raise doubt or suspicion, especially in a war zone where worries about infidelity can easily escalate, he says.

“Prepare for erotic communication, and then that gives you the green light,” he says.

“Dirty Thursday” wasn’t about doing laundry…

But it was a laundry list of sorts-that is, a list of what Susan* and Kyle* would do to each other in the bedroom after Kyle returned from Iraq.

Married for 19 years and with five children, the couple had been through normal ups and downs in their sexual relationship. But when they experienced their first and lengthy wartime deployment, intimacy became top priority.

So they came up with “Dirty Thursday,” their code phrase for email-sex.

“I would grab a fantasy,” Susan says. “One was to say, ‘I’ve been exercising and thinking about you at the gym and what it would be like if I was on the weight machine.’ I described for him what it would be like if he saw me sweaty and what I’d be doing, but I didn’t go into detail about what would happen next. I gave him the detail to put the image in his mind.”

A Vacation From Sex?

Separated by oceans and deserts, igniting a “fire for one” in the bedroom is the last thing many women want to do, including Susan. “After he said goodbye, in the back of my mind I was relieved that I didn’t have to think about sex for a few months. Something inside me said, ‘I’m on vacation from that,'” she says.

But that changed when she realized that sex wasn’t just about her own needs. By putting Dirty Thursday into practice, she ultimately rediscovered her own sexual appetite.

Susan’s dampened desire is common, say sex therapists. But it’s important to “look at the sexual part of yourself as a place to retain and keep special” while your spouse is away, says Dr. Peter S. Kanaris, public education coordinator of the New York State Psychological Association.

Making Sweet, Sexy Lemonade

Use the separation as an opportunity to “make lemonade of lemons,” says Dr. Joy Davidson, a therapist who writes for Playgirl magazine. “The lemonade is that you are exaggerating aspects of your romantic and erotic relationship, which is normally treated with much less fanfare. In doing so, you can not only have fun, but set patterns in motion that you will continue to do later,” she says.

Remember, says Kanaris, “the most important sex organ is the brain.” It actually is possible to connect on an intimate level despite the geographic distance, he says.

Use your imagination to … well, you know.

There’s nothing wrong with self-gratification. In fact, it’s paramount if it helps you feel stronger and not deprived, Davidson says.

“It’s the best thing you can do,” Davidson says. “It’s like exercise. If you don’t exercise daily, you can’t run a marathon or lift a big, heavy weight. You need to stoke those embers of desire through self-pleasuring and fantasy. Sometimes it’s reading erotic novels or seeing a sexy movie. It’s not like you can turn on the spigot when you want to get it up for your partner if you’ve been dry for so long,” Davidson says.

Masturbation should depend on your personal comfort level, Kanaris says. “I would not say it’s mandatory. People of [some] religious backgrounds find it unacceptable. But is it something that is sex-positive? I absolutely think it is. It might lead to an improvement in the sexual relationship when he comes home.”

Or, Do Nothing And Wait

Not everyone communicates about their sexual needs during deployment. Monica* and Hayley* each shut down that area of their lives until their husbands return. Doing so helps strengthen other areas of their relationships and hypes anticipation, Monica says.

They each tried to be explicit with their husbands, but that only served to increase frustration. “It made us miss each other more,” says Hayley, adding that the decision to keep “the sex topic” off-limits helped with the reunion. “I didn’t feel estranged from him, because we have so much communication. I told him he would be ‘ready to bust,’ and I was, too, and that he should just ‘go for it.'”

Waiting also led to a steamy reunification for Monica. Rather than hop right into bed, she and her husband watched the Super Bowl and had terrific foreplay during the commercials.

“We had several hours of build-up,” she says. “For us, it was a long, drawn-out experience, slow and soft, and it took away the shyness.”

Reunion Sex Tips

Pretty soon you’ll be back in his arms again, but you’re feeling anxious. Here are some ideas from military wives and Dr. Joy Davidson on creating a blissful encounter:

–Ask one of your friends to light candles and spread rose petals around your house about 10 minutes before you arrive home. Make sure the music’s playing when you walk in the door, too.

–In-laws won’t stay away? Tell everyone who’s waiting at home that you have to run an errand that will take about an hour. Then drive your spouse to a hotel (where you’ve made a reservation) and indulge in a quickie.

–Your house is filled with people to welcome hubby home, and no one is leaving. At every opportunity, when you’re out of eyeshot, snatch kisses, grab a feel-even drag him into the closet for 30 seconds if you must-to let him know how much you’re looking forward to the hours ahead.

Not ready for a hop in the sack just yet? Build up slowly with a make-out session. Hold hands. Gaze into each other’s eyes. The rest will follow.


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