The case for protection at every age.
In spite of the leaps and bounds we’ve made in terms of reducing the stigmas around sex, some demographics have inevitably gotten left behind. There are still overwhelming taboos surrounding sex for people over the age of 40—which means we’re not talking enough about common issues like erectile dysfunction and menopause. And now, a new study shows there’s even more harm in cutting out older adults from conversations on sexual wellness: It increases the likelihood of STI spread.
In a survey of 800 adults across England, Belgium, and the Netherlands, SHIFT researchers from the SHIFT sexual health initiative found that those over the age of 45 are at great risk of sexually transmitted infection, CNN reported in November. This tracks with the CDC’s recent research showing that STIs—particularly gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis are at record highs among the United States’s elderly population. So why is this the case?
It comes down to decreased concern and increased shame. Those that are most at risk for developing STIs after age 45, a researcher from the SHIFT team explained, are those who are dating again after a spending a long long time in a monogamous relationship, as well as post-menopausal women, who don’t have to worry about accidental pregnancy. For these individuals, the risk of STI may not even come to mind when they consider their sexual encounters. Socioeconomically disadvantaged adults who may have trouble accessing sexual health services—or may feel ashamed to enquire about them—are also at high risk.
This can also be a result of reduced communication with doctors about sexual wellness—another fault caused by the societal stigma surrounding the sex lives of older adults. Patients may think they’re at a reduced risk for STIs, and therefore may not get screened for them as often as they should. According to Harvard Health Publishing, this comes with added danger: With age, the immune system can weaken, making it harder to fight infections.
The way we change this is by talking about it. Sexual education—especially considering the differences in sex ed by generation—is crucial at all ages, particularly stressing the risks of STIs, as one 2013 study stressed. This can mean having an open conversation with a physician, and also connecting with a new partner about using protection and getting tested. Sex doesn’t stop once you turn a certain age (especially thanks to medications and therapies that make it pleasurable in spite of challenges that E.D. and menopause may bring)—and the necessary precautions to keep you healthy and feeling your best shouldn’t either.