The most recent July issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine published a study that has the military world abuzz. This study and its results? Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a concerning issue among our service members. In fact, the study found that enlisted military men, ages 21 to 40, experience sexual issues up to three times higher than civilian men of the same age. This study surveyed 367 enlisted men who completed an online sexual-functioning survey during the months of October and November of 2013.
The author of this paper was Sherrie L. Wilcox, PhD and research assistant professor at the University of Southern California of Social Work in Los Angeles. What the paper didn’t reveal, howeber, are Sherrie’s close ties to the military. Sherrie grew up in an Air Force family and many of her high school friends joined the military. One of those friends joined the Marine Corps, and later became her husband. They have spent the last four years of his service at Camp Pendleton–which has been ideal, career-wise, for Sherrie. Her husband is not on a deployment rotation, but spends much time on temporary duty (TDY).
Sherrie completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and then attained her graduate degree at the University of Delaware. When she continued with her doctoral studies at the University of Georgia, she continued studying military populations. “It was a good fit for me,” Sherrie explains, “I’ve been immersed in the military community for my entire life.” Upon moving to Southern California, she was able to find a great job in a supportive environment at the USC Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families (CIR).
Why this study?
The goal of the study is to begin the conversation about sexual dysfunction among military service members. Sherrie would like to examine the effects of sexual function problems in military personnel, especially focusing upon their quality of life. She’d also like to evaluate and break down barriers of treatment, especially the social factor, (think of the image of young, virile military men) since only about 12% seek treatment.
Some potential causes of ED may be related to trauma in combat and resulting PTSD. These are also strong stressors on relationships. Another factor not to be ignored, are mental and physical health issues. This may be a recent study, but sexual dysfunction is not new to the current young enlisted population. It is underreported and understudied, and this is something Sherrie and the CIR hope to resolve.
Medication is provided, in most cases, but that may not be enough. Incorporating the spouse in treatment is extremely important, perhaps even using counseling.   Once the cause is found, it is easier to develop a treatment, whether it be hormonal, physical, or psychological. Tricare is doing a good job of providing medication for such things. Currently available through Tricare are hormonal injections and PDE5 Inhibitors, such as Cialis, Levitra and Viagra.
Sherrie has high hopes for the future in regard to ED: “I hope that clinicians begin asking about sexual functioning and learn ways to treat these problems. I also hope that our service members and veterans will seek help for these problems.” She is aware that much more research is needed.
This study was only able to determine that there is a problem, not the cause. The most important thing is that service members and veterans know they aren’t alone, and be willing to seek treatment.