Toward a social theory of sexual risk behavior among men in the armed services: Understanding the military occupational habitus
Worldwide, military personnel have been recognized as a population at elevated risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV; however, it is not well understood how the military occupation itself is implicated in the production of sexual risk behavior. Using qualitative and quantitative data collected from the Belize Defense Force (BDF), we employed a grounded theoretical framework and the Bourdieusian concept of the field and habitus to clarify how the military occupation is implicated in structuring aspects of sexual risk behaviors among personnel. We focus results on in-depth qualitative interviews conducted with 15 male-identified BDF personnel. We identify and describe how two field elements, namely operational tempo and ongoing exposure to occupational hazards, are occupationally specific field elements implicated in the production of sexual risk behavior through the mediating matrix of the military class habitus. Our findings demonstrate a conceptual clarity regarding the institutional field and habitus through which military personnel make sense of and act on the risk of bodily harm with regard to their own sexual behaviors. We conclude by outlining our theoretical concept so that it can be directly applied in public health efforts in order to leverage military occupational field elements for the purpose of HIV and STI prevention.