Page 2 of 2   <      

No sex, please. We're soldiers.

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity

As late as the 1980s, officers' clubs on military bases in the United States and abroad regularly featured performances by strippers. "I think we used to call them exotic dancers," Scales recalled. Today the officers' club at Fort Campbell, Ky., home to the legendary 101st Airborne Division, was recently reopened as a Family Resource Center where soldiers and their spouses can get marriage and financial counseling. There are full-time babysitters on site.

What caused the changes?

First, there are more women in the military than ever: They make up 20 percent of the Air Force, 16 percent of the Navy, 14 percent of the Army and 7 percent of the Marines.

As women in uniform have taken on positions of greater authority, the military has reacted by pretending that sex in the ranks doesn't exist, wrote retired Capt. Kevin Eyer in this month's issue of the U.S. Naval Institute's flagship magazine, Proceedings. "You cannot put men and women in a small box, send them away for extended periods of isolated time, and expect them not to interact with one another," he concluded. "They're like magnets . . . they stick. It is what has kept our species going for 250,000 years."

Even the word "woman" has fallen out of favor on Army and Marine posts. Instead the military prefers "females," which refers to non-male troops, and "ladies," a term that encompasses wives and the women who work in the base's protocol office or thrift store.

The shift in military sexual mores also coincided with an increasing number of evangelical Christians who began moving into the officer corps in the 1980s, as well as the 1991 Tailhook scandal, in which hundreds of naval and Marine aviators' careers were scuttled by allegations of sexual harassment and abuse at a Las Vegas hotel.

Finally, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have fueled the military's turn away from sex. In both countries, alcohol and pornography are prohibited on the grounds that they offend Muslims. Soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan are repeatedly told not to look at local women.

Meanwhile, some Western women find themselves covering up even on U.S. bases. "I did not even like going to a gym in a sleeveless workout top," said Erin Simpson, who recently returned from a stint as a civilian counterinsurgency adviser to the Army and Marine Corps. "A lot of these guys haven't seen their wives or girlfriends in a year. It makes you a little maladjusted."

To be sure, much of the military's extreme sexlessness is a facade. Troops still sneak off for intimate liaisons on forward operating bases or ships. In Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers and Marines frequently make arrangements for friends to wipe their computers clean of pornography if they are killed in battle so that their mothers and wives won't see the offending images when their laptops are shipped home.

Recently, the comic strip "Doctrine Man," written by an anonymous active-duty officer and distributed via Facebook, spoofed the military's obsession with confiscating porn.

"You can't bring pornography through Navy customs," a military customs officer tells a Marine returning from Iraq in a short animation.

"It is illegal for me to bring pornography back into the U.S.?" the Marine asks. "I thought this was where most of the pornography was made."

"Do you think you'd catch the Greatest Generation coming through here with porn?" the customs officer presses.

"[Expletive] yeah," the Marine replies.

Of course, the military's almost cultish embrace of a warrior-monk ideal has some plus sides. Most military experts believe that it will make the integration of openly gay troops into the ranks much easier. "The military will have no problem with homosexuals because it is a sexless environment," Sky said. "It just won't be an issue."

Greg Jaffe covers military affairs for The Washington Post and is a co-author of "The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army."


<       2

© 2011 The Washington Post Company

Network News

X My Profile