The older generation grew up in a time where birth control pills allowed them to enjoy sex without the fear of getting pregnant – much like condoms, but without the need to spend money for them.
Today, these same folks are back in the dating game after years of marriage has led the way to divorce or one spouse’s death, which means they can enjoy an active sex life again. While this can be good news, it’s causing some great concern. After all, these same folks are seeing a rise in STDs at a worrying rate.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the number of gonorrhea cases in people 55 and older increased 164 percent in four years (from 2014 to 2018). In that same timeframe, the number of syphilis cases increased by 120 percent and chlamydia increased 86 percent.
It’s obvious that, much like the younger generation, the older generation needs to be practicing safe sex too.
Viagra and other medications allow men to have an active sexual life while women can use lubricants, vaginal estrogen and other things to make it more comfortable for them to have sex. Since they’re not concerned with pregnancy, they don’t feel using condoms should be an issue. This, along with dating after being monogamous for years, gives them some false sense of security about their sexual health. And for others, it’s the inability to talk to their doctor about sexual health.
The problem is that a woman’s vaginal tissue thins out the older she gets, making her susceptible to small tears, which then increases her chances of getting an STD.
Some STDs can be easily treated using antibiotics, while others cannot. A person with HIV can use the right combination of medicine to reduce their viral load to nearly undetectable levels, meaning the disease is unlikely to be passed onto a partner.
The problem is that most older Americans with this disease have no idea they have it. In 2015, there were close to 40,000 new HIV infections, with a quarter of them suffering from the disease for at least seven years before realizing they had it.
A current screening is the only way to know if a person has an STD.
People concerned about their sexual health need to get tested. If an older person is experiencing itching or burning of their private region, have pelvic pain, unusual discharge or pain while having sex, they should see their doctor and get tested. They should also look for blisters or sores on their penis or vagina as well.
The only surefire way to stem this wave of STDs among the older generation is to talk with them and each other openly about sex and sexually transmitted diseases. Another thing they can do is get a test together.
Since condoms are so important at reducing the chances of spreading STDs, encourage them to use them. If a man is unable to maintain an erection after putting on a condom, there are now female condoms available, which are just inserted into the vagina before having sex.
Post-menopausal women should also use lubrication, but be mindful of which ones they use. Silicone-based ones have oils that can destroy a sex toy but last longer during sex than the water-based lubricants.
The older population may be enjoying sex, but they still need to practice safe sex to stay healthy.
Written by Mark Riegel, MD
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