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Young troops suffer from erectile dysfunction at nearly three times the rate of civilians their own age, according to a new study out of the University of Southern California.
In a study published recently in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, 33 percent of 367 active-duty men surveyed reported symptoms of erectile dysfunction, or ED, while 8.4 percent reported probable sexual dysfunction, or SD — issues unrelated to erections that include low sex drive and ejaculation problems.
All the troops surveyed were age 40 and below.
According to the findings, troops who reported they probably have post-traumatic stress disorder were 30 times more likely to report ED and six times more likely to have probable SD.
Those with depression, moderate to severe anxiety or who were sexual assault victims also were 10 to 13 times more likely to have ED or SD.
The age groups reporting the highest rates of ED were 31-35 and 36-40, with the latter reporting nearly twice the rate of ED than civilian men over age 40.
The researchers cautioned against concluding that conditions like PTSD, depression and other mental health conditions cause sexual dysfunction. But they added that there appears to be a “clear relationship.”
“Although causal ordering is uncertain, it is clear that there is a strong relationship between sexual functioning and psychosocial factors. Specifically, the presence of mental and physical health problems were related to high levels of sexual function problems,” wrote Sherrie Wilcox, research assistant professor at USC’s Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families.
The social scientists noted that embarrassment or the taboo of discussing sexual inadequacy may prevent troops from discussing their issues. Medical personnel treating active-duty and former service members should be aware of what could “increasingly become a more important public health problem,” they added.
“Although these issues were associated with significantly reduced quality of life and happiness, few affected individuals reported receiving treatment,” Wilcox wrote.
Shortly after NBC News first reported the study’s alarming findings, the Pentagon released data that appear to directly refute the results.
According to the Pentagon, there were 5.8 cases of ED per 1,000 “person-years” in 2013, for a rate of about 0.58 percent per 100 person-years; for troops under age 40, the rate was 4.02 per 1,000 person-years, or about 0.4 percent.
The Pentagon released the 2013 data because it coincided with the USC study research period.
A person-year is a statistical measure of the number of years that members of a population have been affected by a particular condition multiplied by the number of members in that population. It is often used in military epidemiological studies to account for the changing numbers of personnel serving in the military each year.
“Our analyses indicate that fewer than 1 percent of males under 40 in the active duty force in 2013 would be classified as having erectile dysfunction,” Pentagon officials said in a written release.
The discrepancy between the USC study and the Pentagon’s information could be related to the study’s methodology, which included self-reported responses and, possibly, selection bias caused when participants decide to take part in a study because they already are experiencing problems, according to the Defense Department.
Wilcox and her colleagues admitted their study has limitations but in the report they also noted that the two measures used, the International Index of Erectile Function and the Arizona Sexual Experiences Scale, had high reliability.
They said the study — one of the first assessments of sexual functioning problems in male troops — demonstrates a need for broader research on the causes of the sexual dysfunction in the military.