Sexual Health

Last Updated: February 26, 2024
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​​​​​​​​​​Romantic couple in cafe with "Let's talk Sexual Health" textSexual health refers to condition of a person’s overall physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. This involves self-care, respect for partners, and protection of vulnerable individuals. The U.S. military provides certain requirements and many resources to support positive sexual health conditions for its personnel.​

Every Service Member is responsible for - 

  • Protecting his or her own sexual health
  • Protecting others by not transmitting sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Preventing unintended pregnancy/paternity
  • Helping to reduce sexual assault

Yet did you know that every year thousands of military service members are diagnosed with at least one STI, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital herpes, and syphilis? 

While all STIs continue to be military concerns, most recent military data has shown a notable surge in syphilis cases among service members.External Link The STI epidemic is also occurring with civilians according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.External Link 

​​STIs are on the​ rise - Don't take chances!

  • Know what they are. STIs are infections caused by viruses, bacteria or parasites that are passed from one person to another through sexual contact and with shared toys. Viruses cause hepatitis B, genital herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Bacteria cause chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis. Parasite examples include pubic lice and trichomoniasis. For details see CDC STI Fact Sheets​External Link 
  • Understand symptoms may not be noticeableA person can have an STI without having obvious symptoms, or symptoms may not occur for days, weeks, or even months after exposure. If you do have symptoms, they can include one or more of the following: pelvic, vaginal, or penile pain, swelling, burning, discharge or odors, rashes, blisters, or warts, bleeding between periods, and/or painful sex. 
  • Talk to your provider about types of testing and frequency that is best for you. Test results don’t reflect exposures that happen after testing, so routine testing is often advised. Military can be tested for free. 
  • Get treated right away if you have an STI. Untreated STIs can cause infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, chronic pain, nervous system disorders, certain types of cancer, organ failure and potentially death. Untreated STIs can also be dangerous during pregnancy to a mother and her baby. 

A checklist to help you combat STI risks: 

  • ​​Mon​it​or and protect yourself: 
    • Get tested as often as your healthcare provider suggests and get treatment when needed 
    • Get the human papillomavirus (HPV) and Hepatitis B vaccines
    • Ensure that your at-risk partners get tested and are vaccinated

  • ​Be ​responsible about sex: 
    • Choose to not have sex (oral, vaginal, or anal) 
    • Reduce your number of partners 
    • Talk with your partner - Get tested together 
    • Use a condom correctly EVERY time (oral, vaginal, or anal sex) 
    • Avoid risky situations like drug and excessive alcohol use, “hook-ups,” unknown partners, offering or receiving money or drugs for sex 
    • Don’t share needles or razor blades, and ensure tattoo and piercing facilities are safe 

Military resources to help combat STIs: ​

Check your knowledge - Did you know?

  • Syphilis has risen 40% among military service members 2020-2022.External Link Syphilis can cause serious effects to your brain, heart, eyes, and other organs, and be passed from a pregnant person to their baby. Syphilis is generally easy to cure in its early stages with penicillin, but the longer it goes untreated the more damage it can do. Prevent syphilis by using condoms every time you have sex and get tested regularly if sexually active. If you test positive for syphilis, tell your current and past partners. 
  • The HPV vaccination can prevent over 90% of cancers caused by HPV. Human papillomavirus (HPV)External Link is a common STI virus that can lead to certain cancers later in life. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)External Link reports that HPV can cause cancers of the cervix External Linkvagina, and vulvaExternal Link in women, the penisExternal Link in men, and in the anusExternal Link ​and in the mouth and throatExternal Link​, in both men and women. The cancer can occur years, even decades after exposure to HPV. Ideally, children will get fully vaccinated when younger, such as 11-12 years of age. Per CDC guidelinesExternal Link, if not fully vaccinated as a child, everyone male or female up to 26 years of age should get the HPV vaccine. Individuals between 27 and 45 years may benefit from the vaccine – but should discuss with their healthcare provider first. 
  • Every day a service member is diagnosed with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Do your part to help end HIV in the military community. Lower your risk by using condoms, get tested for STIs, and talk to your provider about whether you would benefit from the daily HIV pre-exposure prohylaxis pill (“PrEP")External Link
  • ​Sexual Trauma affects members of all genders and types of background in the Department of Defense. The term “military sexual trauma" (MST) is used to refer to sexual assault or threatening sexual harassment experienced during military service MST includes any sexual activity during military service in which you are involved against your will or when unable to say no. Treatment for any physical or mental health condition related to MSTExternal Link is provided free of charge to Veterans or active Service members, regardless of when the MST occurred. In addition, the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response OfficeExternal Link provides resources for both military personnel and Tricare MHS beneficiaries. Learn other DoD initiatives aimed at reducing sexual assaultExternal Link


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