Pregnancy obviously isn’t an issue for older adults, but you are still at risk for sexually transmitted diseases. Here’s how you can protect yourself.
The Villages in Citrus Hills, Fla., is renowned for its golf clubs, country clubs, and more than 45,000 upscale homes — some of which cost upwards of $1 million. Yet this gated retirement community has become even better known for its residents — or rather, for their extracurricular activities.
The Villages has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the country. As reported in a 2009 New York Post story, a gynecologist claimed she “treated more cases of herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV) at The Villages than she had when she worked in Miami.”
The titillating tales that have emanated from this community highlight soaring rates of STDs among baby boomers countrywide and the need for education about safe sex for seniors. The number of new genital warts, hepatitis B, and other STDs have also risen in this age group.
“Anyone who does not practice safer sex, no matter their age, can contract an STD,” said Anupam B. Jena, MD, PhD, of the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Medicine. And when older adults are diagnosed with an STD, it’s often late in the course of the condition, once it has already done damage and is harder to treat.
What’s behind the STD boom in baby boomers?
Many boomers were raised at a time when sex education focused solely on preventing pregnancies — not STDs. Once menopause hit, those worries became obsolete. Both men and women felt free to adopt a more laissez-faire attitude to protection, which they did. Adults over 40 have the lowest condom usage of any age group, according to the 2010 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior.
Add to lax protection the rising number of over-50 singles. Between 1990 and 2010, the divorce rate in this age group doubled, a phenomenon researchers dubbed “the gray divorce revolution.” The percentage of older adults who find their dates online has also doubled, leading to sexual encounters between people who know very little about each other’s personal history.
The era of Viagra and Cialis has ushered in a time when erectile dysfunction (ED), which affects nearly 70 percent of men by their 70s, is no longer a barrier to sex, and added to the lack of safe sex for seniors. Millions of men now take these drugs — and many of them fail to take precautions during sex. A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that STD rates in men taking ED drugs were two to three times higher than in non-users.
Safer sex at any age
Your desire for intimacy doesn’t dim when you hit 50. And just as you’re never too old to have sex, you’re never too old to practice safe sex.
Anyone who is not in a committed relationship should use a condom during every sexual encounter. You can buy lubricated condoms or add a water-based lubricant if vaginal dryness is an issue.
If you’ve found a new partner or you have more than one partner, have a conversation with them about their past relationships and history of IV drug use. Before having sex for the first time, both you and your partner should get screened for STDs.
Watch out for signs of an STD, which include pain or burning when you urinate, cloudy or bloody discharge from the penis or vagina, pain during sex, strong vaginal odor, and genital itching. Report these symptoms to your doctor. And when you see your doctor for regular check-ups, talk about your sexual health and find out what screenings you need.
April 21, 2017
Janet O’Dell, RN