If you think people’s sex lives end at 50 or 60 based on the preconceived notion that media has reinforced about more senior adults, it’s all right – you’re wrong.
More and more men and women in their senior years are enjoying active, fulfilling sex lives well into the twilight of their years.
But, with the subsequent increase in sexual activity during late adulthood, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that more mature adults are increasingly at risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases or infections. The rise in such occurrences only substantiates the fact that age is but a number when it comes to sex.
Findings from a healthcare company study showed that STDs such as syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes simplex, trichomoniasis, and hepatitis B increased by nearly a quarter in patients above 60.
Why should it matter?
Simple – sexually transmitted diseases and infections are no laughing matter. Left unchecked and untreated, STDs and STIs may lead to specific cancers, pelvic pain, inflammation, herpes, and genital warts/ulcers.
In particular, individuals with bleeding disorders should be primarily concerned. Much of this is because older individuals with bleeding disorders tend to have somewhat compromised immune systems. After all, their immune systems have been under attack most of their lives due to bleeding disorders. That’s why they may have a more challenging time fighting off sexually transmitted infections or diseases.
The world’s aging population has ensured that people remain sexually active later in life. Paired with a higher divorce rate and the possibility of changing partners, STDs and STIs have been given an ideal environment to thrive – particularly for middle-aged individuals.
Education about STDs and STIs is critical in stemming the flow of infection – and therein lies the problem for older adults, based on the same study. Most senior adults’ knowledge about STDs is limited mainly to just HIV and AIDS; hence, understanding the demographic’s knowledge in such matters can be limited.
Here are four other reasons why more and more senior adults over 40 and above are at a higher risk of contracting STDs.
Limited demographic understanding and knowledge of STDs/STIs
Participants in the study mentioned above had heard about the most common STDs. However, the participants were revealed to have only a surface knowledge of STDs like syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes, chlamydia, genital warts, and HIV. But beyond recognizing the names, most had little idea about the details. Most senior adults were familiar with HIV, particularly in light of the massive HIV awareness campaigns of the ’80s before treatments evolved and improved.
It was found that the participants viewed STDs as a health concern for groups like MSM and intravenous drug users, rather than a clear and present threat to their health.
Old habits and preconceived notions are hard to break.
According to the study, the participants mainly learned about STDs as young adults from the sixties to eighties. As such, their sex education was limited and came from a negative point of view (think about guilt and moral disapproval) or totally lacking in knowledge about STDs.
The rudimentary knowledge they had about STDs was seen through the lens of promiscuity in sexual relations, which was then condemned, and the illness as a consequence of such so-called sexual misconduct – a stigma that gravely affected women.
Therefore, it was no surprise that most participants in the same study had gone through their entire lives seeing STDs as something to hide and feel ashamed of.
Some participants revealed that there was no need to enhance their knowledge about sexually transmitted diseases and infections because they had been, were, or still in a long-term relationship.
Parents get their information about STDs from their children.
The study also revealed that parenting does play an influence in educating the study participants about STDs. In particular, women learned about such diseases to determine whether their children might be at risk or if any of their children were diagnosed with one.
Therefore, from the same study, it was determined that the act of parenting could serve as a font of knowledge for sex education for the parents themselves.
Knowledge isn’t enough.
Even though there were well-informed about STDs, being well-informed didn’t necessarily equate to practicing safer sex.
Some participants mentioned that they haven’t gotten tested after engaging in unprotected intercourse with a different partner. Instead, they took a wait-and-see approach to see if any symptoms would come up. Sometimes, knowledge just isn’t enough – and there’s little else that can be done when an individual knows the risks of such a thing but doesn’t take steps to protect themselves and others around them.
In the end, the study revealed that much had to be done in helping middle-aged, sexually-active adults understand the real threat that sexually transmitted diseases or infections pose so that they can make better decisions with regard to their sexual health.
Perhaps more efforts should be undertaken by public health bodies to address the gap in STD/STI knowledge, particularly for older, sexually active adults.
It’s a clarion call for public health officials to be aware of the knowledge gap in older adults coming from long-term relationships to make better sexual health decisions – and do something concrete about it.
The persisting stigma, as it were, surrounding STIs within this demographic is something that public health officials need to remediate accordingly.