Men age 40 and younger who are enlisted in the U.S. military are three times more likely to have erectile dysfunction (ED) than civilian men of similar age, but few military men report receiving treatment, according to a new study.
The study, one of the first assessments of sexual-functioning problems among male military personnel, included 367 enlisted men, ages 21 to 40. Participants completed an online sexual-functioning survey during an eight-week period in October and November in 2013.
The aim of this study was to estimate the prevalence of sexual function problems in male military personnel, examine its effects on their quality of life and evaluate barriers for seeking treatment, said Sherrie L. Wilcox, research assistant professor at the University of Southern California's School of Social Work in Los Angeles, and one of the authors of the study.
The researchers found that ED was common, with more than 30 percent of the relatively healthy young servicemen in the study reporting having it.
"The overall rate of erectile dysfunction in our sample is three times higher than the rate of ED in civilian males of similar age, and 10 percent more than civilian men over the age of 40," Wilcox told Live Science. "The most alarming data, however, is the rate of ED in the 36- to 40-year age group, which is nearly twice the rate of civilian men over 40."
There was a clear relationship between sexual-function problems and quality of life and happiness, she said. Only 12 of the men affected, however, reported receiving treatment for their problems, according to the study. [10 Surprising Sex Statistics]
"Many of the reasons cited for not seeking treatment were related to social factors and concerns about what others would think," Wilcox said.
Wilcox said the high rates of sexual problems among men in the military could be due to exposure to traumatic events during deployment, mental and physical health issues, and relationship problems with their spouses or significant others. "Sexual-functioning problems are typically associated with increasing age, but those exposed to traumatic events and physical injuries are at risk for developing them, regardless of age," she said.
The study is published in the July issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Wilcox said she hopes to do a longitudinal study in the future, with a larger sample size and perhaps one that focuses on women as well. "This study is important in that it raises awareness for this problem and puts it on the radar of professionals who work with military personnel and their families," she said. "Sexual dysfunction in young military personnel is both an understudied and underreported problem, but it is not unique to the current generation of enlisted men."