Military Women Are 7x More Likely to Receive STIs than Civilian Women

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Study author Dr. Vinita Goyal suggested that military rules forbidding sexual activity while deployed make it difficult for servicewomen to request access to condoms and birth control. Flickr/DavidNoah1

Last week, military women were officially allowed to fight in combat roles in the American military - a move that the public supports. That change means that more women are expected to enter the military. A new study highlights the need for improved gynecological care for servicewomen, however. The study, conducted by researchers from the Iowa City Veterans Affairs Health Center, the University of Massachusetts and the Women and Infants' Hospital in Rhode Island has found that servicewomen are at increased risk of sexually transmitted infections, because they are more likely to engage in risky sexual practices and less likely to use a barrier method of contraception.

The study, conducted by combing through the data of previous reports, found a variety of disturbing results. Military women are seven times more likely to have a sexually transmitted infection than civilian women - even recruits were twice as likely to test positive for Chlamydia, gonorrhea or trichomoniasis than civilian women.

Looking simply at unmarried servicewomen, only 33 percent admitted to using a condom the last time they had sex. Almost 60 percent of servicewomen said that they had sex with more than one partner during the last year; 27 percent of servicewomen said that they had more than one partner during the past three months, and only 17 percent of those servicewomen said their partner always used a condom.

A study conducted among Army recruits found that a third reported binge drinking within the past month, compared to 6 or 7 percent of the civilian population. That number is particularly troubling because 31 percent of female Marine Corps members reported having sex under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Having sex under the influence has been linked with increased rates of unwanted sex and unintended pregnancy.

Study author Dr. Vinita Goyal suggested that military rules forbidding sexual activity while deployed make it difficult for servicewomen to request access to condoms and birth control.

"[Navy] women reported feeling stigmatized as promiscuous if they requested condoms and believed their male counterparts to be exempt from the same criticism," Dr. Goyal said in a statement. "They also reported not using condoms because if found, it would be evidence that they were violating the military policy that prohibits sexual activity when deployed."

The study was published in the Journal of Women's Health.

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