The rates of certain types of sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, are rising dramatically for both male and female service members, according to a recent report. These STIs include chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm similar surges for these three types of infections in the civilian population. The current high rates in the military pose challenges for more than 1.3 million DoD personnel, 84 percent of whom are men.
“We have a large number of males in the service, and the population we see normally is the 18 to 25 year olds. STI is most common in that age group,” said Norma Jean Suarez, a nurse practitioner in preventive medicine at Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio. She added that the men she sees often don’t know how prevalent STIs are.
“STIs place a significant economic strain on the U.S. and military health care systems,” said Maj. Dianne Frankel, an Air Force internal medicine physician and USU preventive medicine resident. In 2012, STIs in the Navy alone accounted for health care costs of $5.4 million.
“From a military standpoint, STIs can have a significant impact on individual readiness, which in turn impacts unit readiness, which then leads to a decrease in force health protection,” said Frankel. She added that there can be serious health consequences for untreated STIs, including, down the road, cancer in the case of genital human papillomavirus, or HPV.
But why are STIs on the rise, and why now? “There appears to be an increase in high-risk behaviors among service members; that is, having sex without a condom or having more than one sexual partner,” said Frankel, referring to the 2015 DoD Health-Related Behaviors Survey, known as HRBS. This report documented that one-fifth of respondents reported having more than one sexual partner in the past year, while one-third reported having sex with a new partner in the past year without use of a condom. These numbers have doubled since the last reported survey in 2011, said Frankel.
Suarez added another factor she’s been seeing: Dating apps can promote random, anonymous encounters, and when infections result, that anonymity can make partners difficult to track down. Having anonymous sex is one of the CDC’s list of behaviors that can increase risk of contracting an STI or HIV. Others include having vaginal, oral, or anal sex without a condom; having multiple sexual partners; or having sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which can lower inhibitions and result in greater sexual risk-taking. Read more via Military Health System