BACKGROUND: Despite increasing numbers of women serving in defence forces worldwide, little is currently known about how servicewomen manage their pelvic health in the traditionally male environment of the military.
OBJECTIVES: The aim of this study was to explore the impacts of pelvic health issues on Australian Defence Force servicewomen and their experiences of managing their pelvic health in occupational settings.
DESIGN: A qualitative hermeneutic design.
METHODS: Telephone interviews were conducted on six currently serving female members of the Australian Defence Force located Australia-wide. A semi-structured interview guide, based on the study objectives, was used to guide the audio-recorded interviews. Data were analysed thematically.
RESULTS: Nine themes were identified. The first six themes explored the experiences of servicewomen in maintaining their pelvic health, including suppressing the urge to go, adjusting hydration depending on toilet access, managing menstruation, regaining 'full' fitness postpartum, awareness and prevention of pelvic health conditions, and inhibiting conversations about women's health. The last three themes explored how servicewomen coped with pelvic health conditions, including self-managing symptoms, diagnosing and treating pelvic conditions, and support for servicewomen's pelvic health.
CONCLUSION: This study suggests workplace culture, low levels of insight into pelvic health norms, and limited healthcare strategies within the Australian Defence Force to support female pelvic health have contributed to servicewomen self-managing pelvic health issues using approaches that may have had significant impacts on their health and well-being.