Sexual and reproductive health in military settings: A qualitative study

Sara E. Vargas*, Kade Thornton, Colby Norris, Galen Gist, Madison F. Clark, Leslie Ramirez, Melissa Guillen, Kate M. Guthrie, Ryan R. Landoll

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Mission readiness is critical to the operational success of the United States (US) military and includes having a healthy and fit fighting force. Service members and their dependents have access to a wide range of sexual and reproductive health services with no out-of-pocket costs. Despite this access, negative outcomes such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancy persist. Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with service members and stakeholders (e.g. medical providers). Interviews explored the individual, interpersonal, organizational, and institutional factors that inform sexual norms, behaviors, and healthcare experiences in the US military. Interview transcripts were coded manually; data were summarized for themes related to unique aspects of military culture and healthcare affecting sexual and reproductive health. Twenty-five (25) service members and 15 stakeholders completed interviews. Four themes emerged: 1) despite free access, both general and military-specific barriers to sexual and reproductive healthcare persist; 2) general and military-specific cultural norms apply to sexual behavior and care seeking; 3) sexual and reproductive health-related norms can be perceived as confusing and contradictory within the military; and 4) resources addressing sexual assault are ubiquitous in military settings, but resources addressing prevention of STIs and unintended pregnancy are limited. Both general and military-specific norms, behavior, and healthcare experiences need to be considered in clinical care, public health campaigns, and other efforts to promote sexual and reproductive health in military settings.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMilitary Psychology
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2024
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Sexual health
  • military health system
  • qualitative interviews
  • reproductive health

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