Military women have higher rates of STI

Feb 07, 2013

Rates of sexually transmitted infection (STI) are 7 times higher in women in the military than in those who are civilians. This alarming finding was published in an article that appeared in the November 2012 issue of the Journal of Women’s Health.

 

Rates of sexually transmitted infection (STI) are 7 times higher in women in the military than in those who are civilians. This alarming finding was published in an article that appeared in the November 2012 issue of the Journal of Women’s Health.

Researchers at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island explored the literature on high-risk sexual behaviors, rates of STIs, and the burden of HPV-related disease among active duty and veteran women. They performed a PubMed search using terms including “sexual behavior,” “unsafe sex,” “multiple sexual partners,” “condoms,” “chlamydia,” “gonorrhea,” “HPV,” “HIV,” “cervical cancer screenings,” “military,” “veterans,” and “women,” and also searched reference lists of relevant articles for additional data.

The researchers found that only 33% of sexually active unmarried active duty military women reported using condoms during last intercourse. Nearly 60% reported having more than one sexual partner within the previous year. A separate study revealed that 27% of servicewomen surveyed reported more than one partner in the previous 90 days. In that group, only 17% reported that her partner always wore a condom.

"Studies indicate a high prevalence of risky sexual behaviors-including inconsistent condom use, multiple sexual partners, and binge drinking-that lead to unintended and unsafe sex," explained Vinita Goyal, MD, MPH, the lead author of the study. "These high-risk sexual practices likely contribute to chlamydia infection rates that are higher than the rates in the general US population. HPV infection and cervical dysplasia may also be higher among young, active duty servicewomen."

In a survey of Army recruits, 33% of female respondents reported binge drinking in the previous month, as compared with 6% to 7% of women in the general US population. Binge drinking is associated with unsafe sexual practices and unwanted sexual activity among female military personnel.

Thirty-one percent of female Marine Corps recruits reported having sex under the influence of alcohol or drugs in the previous 3 months.

"Research investigating the true risk factors for STIs and cervical dysplasia among military women is needed," said Dr. Goyal, adding that healthcare change in the military might be needed as well. "The cost associated with evaluation and treatment of abnormal Pap tests may be averted with greater implementation of the HPV vaccine in eligible military women."