By Michael R. MacDonald, MS, Manager of Sexual Health and Responsibility Program (SHARP) and Dr. Mark Long, Public Health Educator, Health Promotion and Wellness Department, Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center
When we think of our health, we often think of heart health or injury prevention. But how often do you think of sexual health? Sexual health is a state of well-being in relation to sexuality across the life span that involves physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual dimensions. Sexual health is an intrinsic element of human health and is based on a positive, equitable, and respectful approach to sexuality, relationships, and reproduction that is free of coercion, fear, discrimination, stigma, shame, and violence.
It includes the ability to understand the benefits, risks, and responsibilities of sexual behavior; the prevention and care of disease and other adverse outcomes; and the possibility of fulfilling sexual relationships. As Sailors and Marines, your health is mission critical. That’s why you need to make sexual health a priority. Your ability to serve and your life may depend on it.
The most common sexually transmitted infection is Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Most people who become infected HPV will not be harmed by the virus.1 Sadly, some will. Certain types ofHPV can lead to cervical cancer in women.2 The good news is that women can receive cervical cancer screenings and HPV tests that enable prompt treatment.2 But what about men? HPV is common in women AND men.1 In men, HPV can cause genital warts and some cancers of the penis, anus, head, neck, and throat.1
Although there is no approved HPV test for men, the HPV vaccine can protect men (and women) from HPV types that cause most genital warts and some cancers.1 The vaccination involves three doses over a six month period.1 The vaccine is safe and highly effective.1 Male Sailors and Marines are not offered HPV vaccination during boot camp and may or may not be offered it during their Periodic Health Assessment (PHA).
If you’re a man, age 26 or younger, ASK your health care provider about the HPV vaccine. By the way, condoms used correctly and every time reduce a person’s likelihood of getting or spreading HPV and other sexually transmitted infections.1 For more information on preventing HPV and maintaining overall sexual health, check out the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center (NMCPHC) Health Promotion and Wellness Department’s (HPW) HPV Prevention Resources and Sexual Health and Responsibility Program (SHARP).
Sexual health not only involves disease prevention, it also involves proper function. Sexual functionality can be altered by lifestyle choices that you make. For example, recent studies have increased and further strengthened the evidence that smoking adversely affects male sexual health.3 Smoking is a cause of erectile dysfunction, which negatively affects reproduction and sexual functioning.3 Smoking also damages the DNA in sperm, which may lead to infertility.3 For more information on the negative effects of smoking and how to quit, check out the Tobacco Free Living Resources.
You’re in charge of your sexual health and your behaviors, such as smoking and tobacco use. Take action by talking to your health care provider, getting vaccinated, and making healthy lifestyle choices. Remember, your sexual health is an important part of your overall health. And it’s your duty to maintain your health and well-being so that you are military ready at all times.
1 HPV and Men – Fact Sheet. . U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Division of Cancer Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv-and-men.htm. Updated 28 January 2015. Accessed May 2015.
2 HPV and Cancer. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/causes-prevention/risk/infectious-agents/hpv-fact-sheet. Reviewed 15 March 2012. Accessed May 2015.
3 The Health Consequences of Smoking 50 Years of Progress in 2014. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Surgeon General. http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/reports/50-years-of-progress/sgr50-chap-9.pdf
2014. Accessed May 2015.