according to an observational study involving interviews with more than 1,000 military women.
Female veterans with histories of both childhood sexual abuse and sexual assault in the military were 4.33 times more likely to report sexual pain than female veterans with no history of sexual assault; women whose history of sexual assault occurred in the military only were 2.37 times more likely to report sexual pain. Those with histories of childhood sexual abuse but no military assaults were 1.75 times more likely to report sexual pain than those who had no history of sexual assault.
The findings suggest that sexual assault in the military is more detrimental to sexual function than childhood sexual abuse alone, which “is distinct from the pattern long observed in civilian women that childhood sexual abuse confers a greater risk for sexual pain than adulthood sexual assault,”, then of the Department of Veterans Affairs Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans in Waco, Tex., and coinvestigators wrote in .
The findings come from a secondary analysis of data collected for a larger project titled. The research team conducted telephone interviews with 1,004 female veterans younger than 52 years of age (mean, 38 years) who were enrolled at two large Midwestern VA medical centers and associated clinics. Sexual pain was assessed by one question: “Does it hurt you to have sexual intercourse or penetration?”
The study also identified high comorbidity between sexual pain and mental health concerns. As with sexual pain, rates of depression and PTSD were highest among female veterans with histories of both sexual abuse in childhood and sexual assault in the military, followed by women with histories of sexual assaults in the military alone, and then women with histories of childhood sexual abuse alone. Women with both histories were 6.35 times more likely to report PTSD, and 3.91 times more likely to report depression, compared with female veterans with no history of sexual assault.
Women who experienced sexual assault during their childhood and/or while serving in the military also may have been exposed to sexual assault during their pre- or postmilitary adulthood as well, but this was a small number and its effects were not evaluated, the authors noted.
Especially given the “growing numbers of women serving in the military and prevalence of sexual assault in this population,” there’s a need for more research on the sexual function of female veterans and development of “targeted treatments,” the investigators wrote.
For now, providers should be “more comprehensive in their assessment of sexual assault history” and should consider developing relationships with community providers who specialize in sexual health, they added.
The study was funded by the VA. The authors did not report any relevant financial disclosures.
SOURCE: Pulverman CS et al.