A newly published study in the British Medical Journal reports that 80 percent of adults ages 50 to 90 years are sexually active. Consequently, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have more than doubled within this age group over the past decade. STIs aren't just something younger people are susceptible to--they're for everyone!
What are we talking about?
The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) reports that syphilis and chlamydia rates in adults ages 45 to 64 years have almost tripled over the last 10 years. Gonorrhea rates are up as well. And, if you think about it, anyone who is at risk for contracting these STIs must also be concerned about trichomoniasis, herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis, and HIV. There are other, less common STIs, such as lymphogranuloma venereum and granuloma inguinale, which might also be a concern, depending on exposure.
Older women are particularly susceptible to STIs because of the physiologic thinning of the vaginal tissue that takes place during menopause. These thinner vaginal tissues can result in pathogens gaining entry into the body more easily by way of routine microabrasions.
Why the increases in STIs in older people?
Sexual activity has no age limit and many people have sex until the end of their lives. The evolution of treatments today for erectile dysfunction has allowed more men to continue to perform much later in life.
Whereas younger people today have grown up knowing the importance of safe sex, older generations didn't grow up with this message and may not be as careful as they need to be. Another factor: When they were young, older women and men used condoms for birth control; now that they're no longer worried about getting pregnant, they no longer think of condoms as a necessity. Finally, erectile dysfunction issues in men may lead them to resist condom use, since condoms are thought to decrease sensation.
What should you do?
I want this message to come through loud and clear, for all generations: Condoms are for more than birth control! You must use condoms to protect yourself and those you interact with. And whatever your age, if you are sexually active, get tested for STIs regularly. Have partners tested before engaging in sexual activity. Talk openly and honestly with your partner about sex and the infections that come with it. STIs are for everyone!