Unfortunately, we've got some decidedly unsexy news for you. The number of cases of sexually transmitted diseases is on the rise across the U.S. Specifically, there's been in increase in cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis – the later of which was on the verge of extinction just ten years ago.
Just how bad are the increases in STDs? According to the military's Medical Surveillance Monthly Report, released September 2017, the number of syphilis cases has doubled over the course of a decade.
While there's been an increase in cases among civilian populations, the rate of STDs is three to six times higher among the enlisted. Many military medical professionals are starting to ask themselves, "why is it that the odds of contracting an STD increase when a troop first puts on a uniform?" The reasons are many.
First, joining the military makes you part of an expanded social network. Not only are troops looped into a group that's made up, primarily, of young adults, they'll also be sent to bases in new cities with entirely new local populations. Couple those two additions to a troop's existing community back home—that's a lot of potential partners.
Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Oliver Arceo draws blood for a Sailor's annual Human Immunodefificiency Virus (HIV) test at North Island Medical Clinic, Naval Air Station North Island, Coronado, Calif. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Marie A. Montez)
Second, demographics matter: almost half (44%) of troops enlisting are from the South, where gonorrhea and chlamydia are most present. Many STDs have delayed or subtle symptoms, meaning it's easy to unwittingly bring something with you to the barracks. Now, this isn't a dig at the south—just plain statistics.
Third, perception is key. A recent study of Navy women reveal that many believe carrying or insisting on the use of condoms makes them appear sexually promiscuous. We all remember our high-school health teachers parroting that abstinence is the only way to prevent STDs entirely, but the second best (and more reasonable) solution is to use protection. Unfortunately, there's a stigma associated with contraceptive use, potentially contributing to the rate at which STDs are spreading.
This isn't a new problem. As far back as WWI, the military has struggled with STD rates among the ranks, and it's no surprise why. Being part of the military means high stress, so it only makes sense that troops seek an outlet. However, it's still mystifying as to why the enlisted, who have free access to health care, condoms, and screenings are affected more than civilians.
Hello, ladies. (British Army Poster used during WWII, 1944)
We're not going to tell you to keep it in your pants, but we do suggest you bag it up. Not just for your health, but for the health of your partners, your partners' partners, and populations worldwide.