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One third of male troops aged 40 and younger revealed to researchers in a new study that they experience erectile dysfunction.
The findings, posted online Thursday at the Journal of Sexual Medicine, used data from a fall 2013 study of 367 male military personnel. Within that group, the servicemen collectively acknowledged an ED rate of 33 percent, according to the published paper.
For civilian guys in the same age range, the ED rate is 7 percent, said report co-author Sherrie Wilcox, a research assistant professor at the University of Southern California.
“It was somewhat surprising,” Wilcox said. “These problems are likely elevated in this young group of military personnel due to the compounding challenges that are unique to our military service members, including intense –- but essential –- training, relocations, deployment, (and) combat exposure.
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“Other research has found that approximately 80 percent of those with PTSD also have sexual functioning problems,” Wilcox said. “Also, medications that might be used to treat other problems, can also lead to sexual functioning problems.”
Among the 367 test subjects, about 80 percent had gone to combat in Iraq or Afghanistan, and the researchers estimated that approximately 46 percent of those troops with ED also had “probable” Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Wilcox said.
“I can’t say what is causing the ED (and other forms of sexual dysfunction, or SD, as mentioned by the troops). However, there is a strong association between presenting with ED or SD and poor physical and psychosocial health problems, including distressed relationships, mental health symptoms, (or) experiencing traumatic events,” Wilcox said.
The Pentagon is following up on the issue, according to a Defense Department spokesman.
"The department takes all aspects of our service members' health, fitness, and morale seriously,” said Maj. James B. Brindle, a Defense Department spokesman for personnel and readiness.
"We are reviewing this study but are currently unaware of any environmental exposure that could be contributing to erectile dysfunction in the force,” Brindle said.
At the Cleveland Clinic, a leading men’s health expert called the military ED rate “provocative and interesting,” but also cautioned that “it is preliminary.”
It should be noted as well that the participants responded to an invitation to fill out questionnaires related to sexual dysfunction -– and that alone can lead to “bias towards people who are experiencing problems,” said Dr. Daniel Shoskes, director of the Novick Center for Clinical and Translational Research at the Cleveland Clinic.
But in a population of returning younger veterans already struggling with nasty acronyms such as PTSD and TBI, experts agreed the last thing many of those men needed was one more acronym, ED, that intimately hits home.