Seniors & STDs Article Summary:
- Seniors over age 60 are the largest population seeking medical help for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and rates of infection among those over 50 have been escalating sharply.
- Doctors don’t routinely screen seniors for sexually transmitted diseases, yet elderly immune systems make the over-50 set more vulnerable to STDs.
- Seniors are largely less informed about how to protect themselves from STDs, check out some steps to prevent STDs
STDs Among Seniors Are Increasing Faster Than Any Other Population
So much for the raging hormones of youth. Seniors not only are having sex well into their golden years, but at least some are being reckless about it. As mentioned above, senior citizens comprise the largest population seeking medical help for sexually transmitted infections. And this comes at a time when the number of reported cases of sexually transmitted disease for all ages is at an all-time high. Specifically:
- Seniors account for the largest increase in new HIV cases.1“Safe Sex for Seniors: Everything You Need to Know But Were Afraid to Ask.” 30 April 2019. The Senior List. 11 June 2019. http://www.theseniorlist.com/blog/safe-sex-for-seniors/
- Seniors have double the rate of new infection compared to all other populations for herpes simplex, gonorrhea, syphilis, hepatitis B, trichomoniasis and chlamydia.
- Rates of infection for STIs and STDs are rising exponentially among seniors. Between 2007 and 2014, syphilis cases among seniors rose by 52 percent and chlamydia by 32 percent. Chlamydia cases nearly doubled between 2012 and 2016 to 9321, and all “senior STDs” were up by 20 percent in the one year between 2015 and 2016.
- The highest spike in STD infection is among elderly men having sex with men.
Why the Steep Rise in STDs Among Seniors?
Some believe the uptick is a direct result of the fact that today’s seniors grew up in the hippie era when birth control pills removed the fear of pregnancy and antibiotics erased the fear of dying from gonorrhea, syphilis, and other STDs. According to Dr. Janet Pregler, director of the UCLA Women’s Health Center, “Suddenly, we had this period of time where there really weren’t sexually transmitted illnesses that could kill you.” Without consequences, she argues, the older generation got in the habit of promiscuity.
- Viagra, erectile dysfunction drugs, and hormone creams. With pharmaceutical intervention, older adults can extend their ability to enjoy sex for many years. The largest market for erectile dysfunction drugs by far is the older set, with 50 percent of those on Viagra aged 40-60, and 43 percent over 60.2 http://www.cvs.com/drug/viagra/patient-statistics Likewise, hormone creams allow older women to enjoy sex.
Given that some degree of erectile dysfunction affects about 50 percent of men aged 50-60, 60 percent aged 60-70, and 70 percent over 70, it’s not surprising that sales of erectile dysfunction drugs are expected to reach over $7 billion annually by 2024.3“Erectile Dysfunction.” UW Health. 14 June 2019. http://www.uwhealth.org/urology/erectile-dysfunction-ed/20537
- Senior communities. It turns out that retirement homes and communities are hotbeds for illicit romance. According to Larry Siegel, host of the radio show Sex Talk, “unprotected sex is rampant in retirement homes.” 4Magnoli, Mike. “Seniors having sex leads to spike in sexually transmitted diseases.” 15 May 2018. CBS News 12. 15 June 2019. http://cbs12.com/news/cbs12-news-investigates/seniors-having-sex-leads-to-a-spike-in-sexually-transmitted-diseasesThere’s no fear of pregnancy, and pharmaceutical aids keep the sex drive alive.
In fact, even nursing homes aren’t immune from sexual activity. As Dr. Lisa Granville, a professor of geriatrics at Florida State University, explains, “Where do you have sex? Most people have it in a bed, so why would you think being bedridden eliminates it?… Bedbound means already in position and easy to have sex.”
- Doctors don’t routinely screen seniors for sexually transmitted disease. Many physicians hold the outdated notion that seniors are sexually sober, or at least, that they would know to take precautions. Only five percent of those on Medicare are screened for STDs, and Medicare does not require STD screening in its annual wellness exams.
- Seniors think they’re immune from STDs. Especially those who have been in long-term relationships that recently ended due to partner death or departure.
Seniors are More Easily Infected by STDs
Sexually active older adults are more vulnerable to infection by STDs than are younger folks for several reasons:
- After menopause, women experience a thinning of tissue in the vagina and vulva, allowing micro-tears where infectious agents like HIV can enter the bloodstream.
- Certain medications commonly taken by seniors decrease friendly bacteria in genital tissue, making it easier for infection to take hold.
- The immune system tends to become more vulnerable with age, putting seniors at greater risk of infection. And if the older person has existing age-related conditions such as hypertension or diabetes, contracting an STD becomes particularly dangerous.
Lack of Awareness of STDs Among Seniors Puts Them at Risk
Older is not necessarily wiser when it comes to sexual safety. It turns out that too many elderly people assume that if their partner can’t get pregnant, or if the partner was in a long-term relationship, sex is risk free. In fact, using a condom is wise at any age to protect against infection, but older people are not likely to do so. In fact, men over the age of 50 are six times less likely to use a condom than men in their twenties. Experts suggest that senior communities should make condoms readily available to residents.
Bottom Line Steps for Seniors to Prevent STDs
- Keep your immune system optimized so you have good resistance if you’re inadvertently exposed to infection. Remember, as you get older, you don’t have the same immune resiliency you did when you were young.
- Use a condom. Experts say latex works best, and polyurethane is next. Unfortunately, lambskin and natural membrane condoms aren’t failproof against STDs.
- If you engage in oral sex, use a dental dam.
- Make sure to use extra water-based lubricant outside the condom, as dry vaginal tissue (so common in older women) can damage the condom.
- Get tested for STDs if you’ve had new partners, as some diseases don’t show symptoms in the earlier, more treatable stages. Keep in mind that gonorrhea has become antibiotic resistant.5http://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/sexually-transmitted-disease-at-my-age
- And finally, it’s important to know that condoms, while important, don’t offer 100 percent protection. They won’t work against HPV, herpes, molluscum, or crabs, all of which can spread via skin-to-skin contact. Also, syphilis can spread via contact with an infected sore. So again, testing is important if you’re sexually active with a new partner.
|↑1||“Safe Sex for Seniors: Everything You Need to Know But Were Afraid to Ask.” 30 April 2019. The Senior List. 11 June 2019. http://www.theseniorlist.com/blog/safe-sex-for-seniors/|
|↑3||“Erectile Dysfunction.” UW Health. 14 June 2019. http://www.uwhealth.org/urology/erectile-dysfunction-ed/20537|
|↑4||Magnoli, Mike. “Seniors having sex leads to spike in sexually transmitted diseases.” 15 May 2018. CBS News 12. 15 June 2019. http://cbs12.com/news/cbs12-news-investigates/seniors-having-sex-leads-to-a-spike-in-sexually-transmitted-diseases|