Background: Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are prevalent in the U.S. military, particularly among females. However, there are limited data on risk-factor differences between genders.
Methods: We used data from the 2008 Department of Defense Survey of Health Related Behaviors among Active Duty Military Personnel to compare the prevalence of STI risk behaviors between sexually active unmarried male and female service members. Multivariable logistic and ordinal regression was used to determine variables associated with recent report of an STI and multiple sexual partners, respectively.
Results: There were 10,250 active duty personnel, mostly White (59.3%), aged 21-25 years (42.6%), and of enlisted rank (87.2%). The prevalence of any reported STI in the past 12 months was 4.2% for men and 6.9% for women. One-fourth of men and 9.3% of women reported five or more sexual partners in the past 12 months. Women were more likely to report unwanted sexual contact, high family/personal life stress, and less likely to report condom use at last sexual encounter. Among both genders, age was inversely associated with reported number of sexual partners whereas binge drinking, illicit substance use, and unwanted sexual contact were associated with increased report of sexual partners. Family/personal-life stress and psychological distress influenced number of partnerships more strongly for women than men. After adjusting for age, race/ethnicity, gender, condom use, unwanted sexual contact, and screening positive for any mental health indicator, we found that report of five or more sexual partners was significantly associated with report of an STI among men (Adjusted Odds Ratio [AOR]=5.87, 95% Confidence Interval [CI]=3.70, 9.31) and women (AOR=4.78, 95% CI=2.12, 10.80).
Conclusions: STI risk behaviors in the military differ by gender. Female service members may benefit from interventions to curtail gender-specific stressors such as family or personal life stress in order to reduce risk for STIs.