Health and fitness are important for everyone, of course. But for active duty members of the military, staying healthy and physically fit is not just important for your life—it’s part of your job.
You may know this, but they are all related. Sexual health is an important part of your overall wellbeing—it has an impact on your physical, mental and emotional health. Taking care of your sexual health can prevent possibly serious health problems—affecting your life and you ability to serve. That’s why it’s important to make sexual health care part of your regular healthcare routine.
Being Sexually Healthy
What does it mean to be sexually healthy? It means keeping your body as healthy as possible, having a satisfying sex life, and maintaining positive relationships. It means avoiding sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancies. It also means having access to the information and services you need to make this possible.
Fortunately, as a member of the military, you have services available to you, including STI testing at military treatment facilities, as well as confidential treatment and counseling, as needed. You have access to vaccinations that can prevent infection, contraceptive options, and medication to help prevent HIV.
Steps to Take
There are specific, concrete actions you can take to help protect your sexual health and future fertility. (Yes—fertility. Some STIs, like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and MGen, can cause health complications if undiagnosed and untreated and potentially affect your ability to have children in the future.) So take a tactical approach and follow the steps to better sexual health:
- Start with yourself.
Before sex, you need to think about your boundaries—like what types of sexual activity you’re comfortable with, your choices about STI and pregnancy prevention—and talk about these boundaries with any sexual partner partner. This is crucial in make sure you are engaging in consensual sex. One important part of consent is making sure you are abiding by your partner’s comfort level in protecting against STIs, birth control, and sexual acts—and your partner is respecting yours.
- Reduce Your Risk.
Sex is great, but also comes with some risk. This includes STIs and unintended pregnancy. The best way to prevent both at once is condoms. These can be internal or external condoms. Your choice. Another choice—contraception. For women in the military, reducing the risk of an unintended pregnancy can be vital, as pregnancy can sideline acareer. There are highly effective contraceptive options available that provide years of pregnancy protection and require nothing on a woman’s part. These are called LARC (long acting reversible contraceptive) methods and don’t prevent a woman from having children in the future.
- Get tested regularly.
Some people thing STI testing is only about finding STIs, not preventing them. But regular screening can help prevent someone from passing an STI to a partner. And since sometimes STIs will have no noticeable symptoms, getting tested is the only way to know. Service members are fortunate that they are periodically screened for some STIs, including HIV. But you may need to be screened more often. Learn what tests are recommended here. But basically—have you had sex (vaginal, oral or anal) without a condom? Have a new partner? Multiple partners? Get tested. Ask you partner to get tested. And get treated, if needed.
- Get vaccinated.
There are three vaccines that can protect against viruses that can be sexually transmitted—hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and HPV. Most members of the military receive recommended vaccines during basic training and before deployment, and you may already received these vaccines. But maybe not, so check. HPV is particular is a very common infection—about 80% of sexually active people will have HPV at some point. And HPV is thought to cause nearly 35,000 cases of cancer each year. So vaccination is cancer prevention.
Resources for Service Members
Check out these resources, both from the military and other sources, to find reliable information on sexual health and STI prevention.
- Navy & Marine Corps Sexual Health and Responsibility Program (SHARP)
A comprehensive list of resources for service members on such topics as STI and HIV prevention services, transgender health, contraception, and more.
- Army Public Health: HIV and STD Prevention
Offers a range of resources on STI and HIV prevention.
- Army Public Health: Sexual Health for Women
Includes information on contraception, menstruation, and reproductive health, as well as common vaginal infections.
- Gay and Bisexual Men’s Sexual Health
Resources and information for gay and bisexual men and transgender women from SHARP.
- Lesbian’s and Bisexual Women’s Health
Resources and information on lesbian and bisexual women’s health from SHARP.
- Top Ten Questions for LGBTQ Patients to Discuss with a Healthcare Provider
GLMA, a national organization committed to ensuring health equity for LGBTQ and all sexual and gender minority (SGM) individuals, offers this resource addrrssing the unique health needs and concerns of LGBTQ patients.
Health insurance for service members and their families.
- National Sexual Health Coalition
Not military-specific, but a great resource for taking charge of your sexual health. It outlines five action steps you can take to achieve good sexual health.
- Start with yourself.