Written by Bethany Stoutamire (Former SDSU Extension Aging in Place Coordinator AmeriCorps VISTA Member) under the direction and review of Leacey E. Brown.
April is STD Awareness Month. While STDs such as syphilis, herpes, and chlamydia may be seen as “young person’s diseases,” the fact of the matter is that STDs are prevalent across all age groups. While STD rates are highest among those between the ages of 15-24, older adults are seeing the fastest increasing STD rates. From 2010 to 2014, chlamydia infections increased by about 52% in older adults, syphilis rose by about 65% and gonorrhea by 90% in individuals over the age of 65.
Why STD Rates Are on the Rise
Medical advancements such as Viagra and Cialis mean that older men can remain sexually active longer, while progesterone and estrogen creams help make sex more comfortable for women as they age. Relationship patterns are also changing. Divorce later in life is becoming more common as is outliving one’s spouse by several years. This means that many older adults are reentering the dating pool and may become sexually active with more partners. As sex-ed didn’t become commonplace in schools until the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 80s, today’s older adults may have missed the sexual education that younger adults received.
Steps to Prevent STDs
While pregnancy is not going to be a risk for individuals in their sixties and seventies, it is still important to use condoms or dental dams for protection against STDs. Using a lubricant (be sure it’s water based) can also help prevent against STDs, as sores or micro-abrasions can increase the risk of infection. Furthermore, as women age, their vaginal lining thins, increasing their risk of infection.
For those who are dating, it is also important to get tested for STDs regularly. Even if you have only been in monogamous relationships and your partner claims the same, there’s no way to vouch for the fidelity of their past partners or even your own. Furthermore, sometimes STDs lay dormant for a while and symptoms may not appear immediately after you contract one. If someone refuses to discuss STDs and protection, or gets offended when the topic is brought up, they might not be the best partner for you.
What to Do if You Suspect You Have an STD
If you are concerned that you may have an STD, it is important to talk to your doctor and get tested. While numerous STDs are treatable, there can be health consequences if they aren’t treated and there’s a risk that they can also be passed on to sexual partners. If you’re unsure of where to go to get tested or what to get tested for, the Center for Disease Control has several tools to help you find both a testing center and what to get tested for.
Just like it is important to take care of our mental and physical health, it is important to also take care of our sexual health. Furthermore, it is important to remember that just like our physical and mental health, it is important to take care of our sexual health throughout our lives and not just during one month of the year.
References & Additional Readings
- Seniors' Sex Lives Are Up — and So Are STD Cases Around the Country
- Seniors, Sex, and STDs
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Older Adults
- STD Rates Keep Rising for Older Adults
- Condom Do’s and Don’ts
- Safe Sex for Seniors: 7 Essential Tips Nobody’s Giving You
- Age is Not a Condom
- The Conversation to Have Before You Get in Bed