'My mind’s ablaze with dead soldiers, hostages, sirens; I can’t relax my body'

Experiencing trauma, many women find intimate moments trigger memories of Hamas atrocities, losing sexual desire; since October 7, they struggle with intimacy; how do they manage, and do men feel similarly?

Yael Garty|
Sivan, 33, who works in hi-tech, was called up for reserve duty on October 7. Four days later, she came back home for one night. “My husband tried to initiate sex. I was so surprised,” she tells us. “I asked myself what the hell was going on with him? With everything going on, where is this coming from? Where’s he getting this from? How can he? I told him I didn’t feel like it and he got it.“
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“I came home again three or four days later and, once again, he understood that I wasn’t in the mood. But the third time I wasn’t into it, he said ‘Really... how much time do you need? We have to carry on. We weren’t on the Gaza border that day.’ I replied ‘I’m not in the same place as you. He really wasn’t happy about it and stopped trying. A month later, I started coming home every night, so he wanted to talk: ‘What are you thinking? That we’ll never have sex again? Never?’ I told him it was taking me longer to get back to normal and he said ‘Okay, feel free to go for it when you’re ready.’”
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משבר בזוגיות
משבר בזוגיות
(Photo: Shutterstock)
Sivan (all names in this article are assumed), mother of two, tells us that under regular circumstances, she and her husband “are quite active and we have sex two or three times a week.” So, what’s happened to her?
“In reserve duty, I saw some very disturbing videos,” she explains. “True, I wasn’t there, but I’m inside it. I’ve been traumatized ever since that horrific day. The anxiety only gets worse when I get home. I’ll suddenly get triggered when I’m out shopping and I find myself choking on my tears. I’m also different with the children: When I’m in the garden with the children, I’m constantly on high alert, thinking something might happen. Even when I’m at home, I’m always thinking about what I’d do if, Heaven forbid, terrorists show up. I have a plan ready and a bag packed for a few days in case we need to leave.”
What’s this got to do with not wanting sex? “It’s not that I have no sex drive, but when I start thinking about sex, my mind drifts to the women who were raped and murdered and the terrible things that happened to the children. I was horny today and I tried masturbating, and then I had these awful thoughts. I don’t caress my husband so as not to get his hopes up.“
Have you thought of seeking professional help? “Definitely. I’m on leave from reserve duty right now and I’m going to schedule some treatment sessions. I’m sure I’ll gradually get back to myself.”

Thinking about the women in captivity

Sivan is not alone. Ever since October 7, lots of women find they can’t have sex. There are lots of reasons for this: Some are affected by the horrifying videos from the scene, others exhibit deep empathy with the women in captivity while others are constantly worrying about their sons fighting in Gaza. Even those who are having sex, have also been affected by October 7, including not wanting to do certain positions. There are also some men who find they haven’t been able to have sex since that day, but it’s mostly women.
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ללא סקס במלחמה
ללא סקס במלחמה
(Photo: Shutterstock)
“In our group, since the war began, we’ve been having more and more postings about the lack of sex drive,” says Adi Avraham-Richey, founder and manager of the Sexymama Facebook community that has over 190,000 members.
“Even now, four months into the war, women are saying that not only is hard for them to have sex, but that they feel guilty about any kind of pleasure. Women who’ve been evacuated are saying they can’t think about sex because ‘How can you feel any kind of privacy in a place that’s not your home?”
Shir, 25, from Pardes Hana who works in a shop has been with her partner for a year and hasn’t been able to get back to sex since October 7. “Masculine violence always scares me, but masculine violence on that day broke all records and, since then, I feel I need a bit of a break from the male sex,” she says.
"I just keep thinking of the girls my age in captivity, lying in the filthy dirt. Perhaps they got pregnant after they were raped. Maybe they’re not getting the medical care they need. All this reduces my sex drive.”
So, you and your partner aren’t touching? “We caress, kiss and make out, but there’s no penetration. I just keep thinking about October 7. What happened there was like the Holocaust, and the Holocaust isn’t a turn-on. I’ve also not been masturbating since then.”
How is your partner dealing with your lack of sex drive? “He’s also shaken up by what we’ve seen and his libido isn’t where it was. He’s very good about it and he isn’t grumbling.”
Natali, 53, an occupational therapist, married mother of three from Netanya, avoided sex for almost two months. She then decided to check whether she was ready to get back to sex as usual. “One of my sons, serving his regular service, has been in the south of the country since the war began,” she tells us.
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(Photo: Shutterstock)
“Two days after that, my older son was called up for reserves and my anxiety levels shot up. I went to work the first couple of days, but my concentration was at about 30%, and I was working fewer hours. My husband and I would come home, watch TV, watch the terrible videos and listen to the shocking testimonies and each of us would close up. When we went to bed, we’d each turn out our lights and turn over – without even talking. For nearly two months, I don’t think either of us could think about sex. This is the first time my husband hasn’t even hinted at sex for such a long period. I’ve never seen him like this.”
Why do you think this is happening? “We’re both worried about our children. It’s with me all the time. It’s in everything I do. My mind’s ablaze with dead soldiers, hostages and the sirens. I can’t relax my body. I’m always on high alert. I panic if a motorbike rides by, or if there’s thunder, or when something falls. I don’t get out of the house much – no entertainment, no trips – just work and sport.”
What’s changed? “During the week of the cease-fire, he wanted to, but I didn’t. I still wasn’t into it. He was disappointed. At some stage, I was less afraid of the sirens and I thought I’d try and see if I could. I enjoyed myself a little – but I wasn’t 100% there. Perhaps my body felt different. I wasn’t back to who I was before. Some men make a switch and everything just disappears when they want sex. It’s not like that for me.“
Have you sought professional advice? “No. I’m functioning. I don’t think that a professional could help me relax. I’m waiting for it to be over and for the soldiers to come back from Gaza. We’ll try to gradually get our life as a couple back on track.”

Am I a machine?

“A lot of women have been telling us it’s hard for them to have sex right now,” says Keren Gilat, integrative therapist treating emotional distress, specializing in trauma, head of the School for Holistic Psychotherapy at Reidman College. “Since October 7, I’ve been having patients who can’t have sex from behind because it triggers Hamas’ raping Israeli women. They can only have sex when facing their partners, with constant eye contact, making them feel safe and loved.”
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קרן גילת, מטפלת רגשית
קרן גילת, מטפלת רגשית
Keren Gilat
(Photo: Hagar Bader)
“There are also women whose husbands have been called up for reserve duty and they’re left on their own taking care of the home and the children. When their partners show up on short leave, the first thing they want is sex. Sex? Now? Really? She’s just not thinking about sex. Am I a service provider? Am I supposed to provide him with whatever he wants? Am I a machine? Let’s spend the weekend together and let me get used to the idea.”
How do you explain women finding it hard to have sex right now? “We’ve all experienced a trauma. Some of us have frozen up. It’s not necessarily about sex. It’s a general avoidance caused by the possibility of impending disaster. There’s also ‘survivors’ guilt’ – people taking on the guilt of what happened to women who’ve been kidnapped, and punishing themselves as a form of moral duty. If they can’t experience pleasure, how can I? Guilt serves as a survival tool. It helps restore control.”
What would you advise a woman who’s been sexually frozen since October 7? “It depends. If she wants to get back to having sex, look into how to renew that. But if that’s not what she really wants right now, I’d recommend, in the first stages, getting back to doing other things that she routinely did before the war. She has to get herself out of the paralysis which is no good for either her body or her soul. The longer the paralysis lasts, the greater the chances of it bordering on post-trauma.”
“Sex drive is affected by our emotional state – and it’s okay to not feel like it for a while,” Shelly Varod, certified sex therapist who lectures about sexuality. “Lots of women have written to me saying they can’t disassociate from the things they’ve seen. They can’t disconnect and move over to the idea of sex with their partners. Some have also told me that they see rape scenes in their minds as they’re having sex. They’ve connected something that’s supposed to be pleasant to something awful. The two worlds have intertwined and we need to separate them so that we can get back to a safe place that can give us pleasure.
"As it's been four months, some women are getting worried asking me when they’ll feel like it again. The men who’ve lost their sex drive say they can’t enjoy sex as long as there are soldiers out there fighting.“
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שלי ורוד, מטפלת מינית
שלי ורוד, מטפלת מינית
Shelly Varod
(Photo: Noy Orkabi)
How do we deal with it? “You mustn’t pressure someone who just can’t think about sex right now. You need to let them heal emotionally. Sex drive, by definition, should come back on its own. If it’s been a long time – and you can’t really define a timeline as we’re living in a world we’ve never experienced before – then you can seek professional help. It means that your emotional state isn’t good.”
What should a woman do if her husband is pressing her for sex? “I don’t think giving him sex just to keep him quiet is a good idea. Some women simply disengage and have sex when they’re not really into it. This makes men say things like ‘She doesn’t enjoy it. She’s not with me. I feel I’m causing her suffering rather than pleasure.’ The man behaves like a child and is cold toward his partner who just can’t have sex right now. You need to sit down and talk – and not about the war or about what caused the trauma. You need a heart-to-heart.

I feel I’m being raped there myself

"You also need to remember that your partner is not your therapist. Couples like this should make their quality time a bit different. It should include a little touching. If it feels right, take it from there. Do some sport together or enjoy some music...“
The rape stories from October 7 constitute a trigger, putting a lot of women off sex. This is clearly more severe in cases rape victims themselves. Liron, 40, marketing manager, married mother of two from Givatayim, was raped 15 years ago and now can’t get back to having sex with her husband.
“For the first month of the war, I was watching each and every video that went online. These pictures now appear in my mind whenever I close my eyes,” she tells us. “The body has become worthless. I can’t be touched and I can’t touch anyone. My sex drive is completely dead. I later heard about things in the Bearing Witness film of raw Hamas footage from October 7 presented to the United Nations. I look at my daughter, imagine she’s there and I’m reeling in shock. I feel I’m being raped there myself. How can I have sex after this? I can’t even kiss my husband, let alone let him get anywhere near my private parts.”
How’s your husband dealing with it? “In the beginning, he tried initiating sex a few times, but I gave him a look that said ‘That’s the most horrific thing you could do right now.’ I explained to him that I need warmth. I need a hug. I need to talk, and that I need to be relaxed. I realize he can’t go on like this for long, but right now there’s nothing I can do anything about it.”
How are you dealing with these bad feelings? “I’m taking two separate sedatives. Anything that can turn my brain off is good. I’ve also had a few treatment sessions, but that didn’t really help. If I don’t want to get stuck, I clearly need professional treatment.”
“This is a case where the memory of her rape is frozen and hasn’t been processed,” says Keren Gilat. “Whenever something triggers this memory, the trauma is re-experienced in full force, including the paralysis reaction. The rape needs to be processed, dulled and assimilated into the autobiographical memory of one’s life.”
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