Forget the traditional notion of older folks having little to no sex. These days, men and women over 60 are enjoying active sex lives. With sexual activity continuing into the later years, there’s been an alarming corresponding increase in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among this population.
According to data from healthcare technology company Athenahealth, from 2014 to 2017, “diagnosis rates for herpes simplex, gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, hepatitis B and trichomoniasis rose 23% in patients over the age of 60.” (HIV infection was not included in the data.)
Why You Should Pay Attention
STDs and STIs are no joke. If not diagnosed and treated, they can lead to certain cancers, genital warts and ulcers, pelvic inflammatory disease, herpes and chronic pelvic pain. People with bleeding disorders should be particularly concerned, says Dana Francis, MSW, a social worker in the adult hemophilia program at the University of California San Francisco Hemophilia Treatment Center.
“The immune systems of older people with bleeding disorders may be somewhat compromised,” Francis says. “It’s not just from hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS, but also from using factor that was impure until we got recombinant factors in the 1990s. Their immune systems have been under attack most of their life. Therefore, their ability to fight an STD may be a little more challenging than for someone else.”
Protect and Educate Yourself
Prevention and awareness are key to avoiding STDs and STIs, says Beverly K. Johnson, PhD, RN, of the Seattle University College of Nursing. In her 2013 article published in the Journal of Gerontological Nursing, Johnson recommends the following:
Talk to your doctor
If you are thinking of becoming or are already sexually active, talk with your doctor about preventive behaviors and appropriate testing. In most cases, Medicare Part B will cover STI screenings with a primary care provider’s referral.
Communicate with your partner
“You’ll both be working from a place of knowledge if you know each other’s history and that you are on the same page about condom use,” Johnson says.
Some older men don’t get erect enough for a condom to stay on until penetration, at which point it is too late; erectile dysfunction medications and vacuum pumps can help. Otherwise, a woman can insert a female condom before sex.
Women should use vaginal moisturizers and lubricants to prevent condoms from tearing during sex. Because of decreasing estrogen, vaginal walls become thinner, drier and more likely to tear.
Get screened annually
As with other areas of your health, screening for STDs and STIs is the best way to detect problems. Sexually active women with new or more than one partner should be screened annually for chlamydia and gonorrhea. Sexually active men, including those who have sex with men, should be screened annually for syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV.