(Reuters Health) - Military women who are sexually assaulted may be at an especially high risk of developing lasting sexual pain, a U.S. study suggests.
Researchers who interviewed more than 1,000 female veterans found the risk of sexual pain was higher among those assaulted while serving in the military than those who experienced sexual abuse as children, according to the study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology. The risk was highest among those who had experienced sexual abuse as children and who were assaulted while serving in the military.
The authors did not immediately respond to requests for an interview.
“Female veterans may require a targeted treatment approach that takes into account the particular nature and consequences of sexual assault in the military,” wrote the team, led by Carey Pulverman, who was a researcher at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans in Waco, Texas when the study was performed.
Pulverman and her colleagues interviewed 1,004 female veterans, aged 20 to 52, about their histories of sexual abuse and assault. The women were also questioned about demographics, military history, and physical, gynecological, mental and sexual health.
“To promote safety and confidentiality, participants completed the interview at a time, and from a phone and location of their choosing,” Pulverman and her colleagues noted.
The researchers defined sexual assault as “any sexual act that occurred without a woman’s consent and involved the use of force or threat of force, and included attempted and completed penetration of the vagina, mouth or rectum.”
After reviewing the interviews, the researchers organized the women into one of four groups: no sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse only, sexual assault in the military only and sexual assault both in childhood and during military service.
The 1,004 women were split almost evenly between those with no history of sexual assault or abuse (48.7%) and those who did have a history of childhood abuse, assault while in the military, or both (50.9%).
Compared to women who never experienced sexual assault, those who were abused as children were 1.75 times more likely to have developed sexual pain, those who were assaulted during military service were 2.37 times more likely to have developed sexual pain, while those who were abused as children and assaulted in the military were 4.33 times more likely to have develop sexual pain.
Rates of depression and PTSD were also higher among women assaulted during military service.
Compared to the risk in women who never experienced sexual assault, the likelihood of having developed depression was 2.65 higher in those who were abused as children, 3.18 times higher in those who were assaulted during military service, and 3.91 times higher in women who were abused as children and assaulted in the military.
Similarly, compared to the rate of PTSD in women who never experienced assault, the rate was 2.20 times higher in women who were abused as children, 5.55 times higher in women assaulted during military service, and 6.35 times higher in those who were abused as children and assaulted in the military.
The findings suggest, “that among female veterans, sexual assault in the military confers more risk for sexual pain than childhood sexual abuse,” the researchers concluded. “This finding is distinct from the pattern long observed in civilian women that childhood sexual abuse confers greater risk for sexual pain than adulthood sexual assault.”
SOURCE: bit.ly/2X4ekNn Obstetrics & Gynecology, online June 11, 2019.
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