Risky Sex Among Military Servicewomen

STI rates high and condom use low among military women

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Research has suggested that women in the military have been less likely to practice safe sex. As more women are joining the military ranks, there may be a need for improved gynecologic care.

A recent review of past studies showed that military women were more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior than their civilian counterparts. Results also showed that military women were less likely to use condoms. As a result, they had a higher risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

These findings suggest that military healthcare providers may need to focus more on the reproductive health of the growing number of women in the military.

"Practice safe sex."

The study was led by Vinita Goyal, MD, MPH, of Women and Infants Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island.

For their research, Dr. Goyal and colleagues looked at past studies on the sexual practices of active duty women in military service. 

These past studies showed that STI rates were seven times higher among military women than among civilian women. These high STI rates could have been the result of low condom use. Only about one-third (33 percent) of unmarried active duty servicewomen said they used condoms the last time they engaged in intercourse.

The researchers also found that almost 60 percent of unmarried active duty servicewomen said they had more than one sexual partner in the last year. Another study showed that 27 percent of servicewomen had more than one sexual partner within the past 90 days. Of that 27 percent, only 17 percent said their partner always wore a condom.

One study showed that 14 percent of military women tested positive for chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis when they entered the military. Servicewomen also had higher rates of HPV and precancerous changes in the cervix compared to civilian women.

In one study focusing on Army recruits, 33 percent of female recruits said they binge drank within the last month. In comparison, only 6 to 7 percent of civilian women reported binge drinking - a practice associated with risky sexual behavior and undesired sexual activity among women in the military.

Research focusing on Marine Corps recruits showed that 31 percent of female recruits said they had sex under the influence of alcohol or drugs within the past three months.

This research is not the first time Dr. Goyal has looked at sexual behavior among military women. One of her previous studies suggested that military women had a higher risk of unintended pregnancy than civilian women.

Military rules bar servicemen and women from sexual activity while deployed. According to Dr. Goyal, such rules may keep women from using condoms and other 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 press 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.

"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," she said. "These high-risk sexual practices likely contribute to chlamydia infection rates that are higher than the rates in the general US population. Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and cervical dysplasia may also be higher among young, active duty servicewomen."

According to Dr. Goyal, these findings highlight the need for improving gynecologic care among women in military service.

"Understanding and addressing the needs of these women will give healthcare providers an opportunity to improve reproductive health care and perhaps lower the rates of sexually transmitted infections among servicewomen and female veterans," she concluded.

The study was published September 20, 2012 in the Journal of Women's Health. Funding and disclosure information was not available.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 6, 2013
Last Updated:
February 7, 2013