If wisdom comes with age, why are rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in people over age 65 skyrocketing? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, between 2007 and 2011, rates of certain STIs rose as much as 52% in this age group. The Public Health Agency of Canada and British studies report similar increases among middle-aged and older adults.
To shed light on this disturbing trend, we consulted pseudo-sexpert Dr. B. Ruthless* for her take on why older adults are getting more than an afterglow from doing the horizontal cha-cha.
Q: So Dr. Ruthless, why are so many older adults getting STIs? Shouldn’t they know better at this age?
A: You’d certainly think so, right? But the generation that led the sexual revolution in the sixties and seventies with refrains of “Free love” and “If it feels good, do it” apparently missed the memo about safe sex.
Q: Are older adults really having that much sex?
A: Yes, Virginia, some are. Despite the perception among young whippersnappers that their parents’ or grandparents’ naughty bits have shriveled up and died, people in the second half of life are still getting it on. According to a 2007 survey, 53% of people between the ages of 65 and 75, and more than 25% of folks between 75 and 85 are still sexually active.
Q: So why aren’t they using protection?
A: In a word: ignorance. Too many older people naively assume that condoms aren’t needed since pregnancy isn’t a risk at this age. But a lot of folks 50-plus are reentering the dating scene after being widowed or divorced following decades of monogamy, they have multiple partners—and they’re clueless about safe sex.
In fact, according to the 2010 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior,
more than 90% of men over 50 didn’t use a condom when they last had sex with a date or casual acquaintance, and 70% didn’t do so when they had sex with a stranger. Among women over 50, a majority also reported having sex without a condom. In contrast, 70% to 80% of teens said they used a condom during their last sexual encounter. And who says youth are irresponsible?
Other research has shown that older men who use erectile dysfunction drugs are six times less likely to use condoms than men in their twenties, and have an STI rate twice that of those who didn’t take these meds. News flash: even a medically enhanced woody is not invincible. Wrap that thing up.
Q: So what kinds of STIs are older folks spreading around?
A: Well, because these strangers in the night are exchanging more than glances, it’s producing the usual suspects like gonorrhea and syphilis, plus a few that weren’t so widespread when boomers saw those old hygiene films in school (like HPV, chlamydia, herpes and HIV/AIDS). Notably, in 2013, people aged 50-plus accounted for 18% of HIV diagnoses and 27% of AIDS diagnoses in the U.S.
Plus—get this—more people have genital herpes than all other STIs combined: 50 million Americans altogether. By some accounts, the prevalence of genital herpes in women aged 45 to 50 is estimated to be as high as 75%. Hello? Can you hear me now about practicing safe sex?
Q: So are retirement communities simply hotbeds of senior sex?
A: It’s no coincidence that the rise in STIs among older adults is higher where there’s a concentration of retirees. Interestingly, Arizona’s Pima and Maricopa counties—heavily populated by folks with conservative social and political leanings, BTW—reported that cases of syphilis and chlamydia among those 55 and older rose 87% from 2005 to 2009. Central Florida saw a 71% increase in that same timeframe. Sounds like Nana and Grampie are playing hide-the-weenie more than they’re watching Fox News, eh?
Q: What about nursing homes—surely by the time someone needs that level of care they’re not doing the deed?
A: Au contraire. STIs are a problem in nursing homes, too. Residents may have health issues, but they’re not dead. Yet only 13% of long-term care facilities train staff to handle sexual behavior among seniors, according to a 2013 survey. And while health assessments are required at intake, they usually only ask about HIV. Let’s get real, folks.
Q: But Dr. Ruthless, with today’s treatment advances, is getting an STI really such a big deal?
A: Oh, wake up and smell the penicillin! Herpes, HPV and HIV/AIDS are forever—they can be managed to a certain degree with antivirals, but they’re not curable. And if you want to keep sleeping around, having an STI is hardly the way to win friends-with-benefits and influence people. Plus, as we age, our immune systems weaken, so we’re not only more susceptible to STIs, but while our bodies fight them, other opportunistic infections can take hold or get worse. Having age-related health issues like heart disease or arthritis doesn’t help, either.
Q: So what’s the answer for preventing STIs among seniors?
A: Sexually active single seniors need to get the safe-sex talk our children and grandchildren get. Doctors need to broach the subject with their older patients and stop assuming that people over 60 don’t have sex. Seniors need to get tested—Medicare started covering annual STI screenings in 2011, but only about 5% of eligible seniors are taking advantage of it. Give out free condoms where seniors congregate the way they do at college health centers. Hell, mail ‘em out with Social Security checks!
Thinking “he (or she) looks okay” is not a preventive strategy. Someone with an STI doesn’t necessarily have symptoms or even know they’re infected. Until or unless you know for sure that someone is disease-free, abstain or, at the very least, use a condom before performing or having a slip-a-dick-to-me.
Q: Any final words of advice, Dr. Ruthless?
A: Look, sex is a life-affirming, pleasurable experience, and for those who wish to partake, go for it. But be responsible, people. Ladies, if you don’t know the status of a potential partner’s sexual health, don’t take off your panties until you put on your big-girl panties and insist your partner wear a condom. And guys, before you go in, wrap it up.
*Dr. B. Ruthless is a pull-no-punches pseudo sexpert. Actually, she doesn’t really exist, but her character uses the Boomer Haiku humor blog to dispel myths and misinformation around sex that do exist, particularly among older adults who she thinks should know better.
Going bareback is
for rodeo performers,
not casual sex.
Thoughts? If you’re a single boomer, have you been tested for STIs? Has your doctor talked to you about safe sex? If you’re not single, are you relieved to not be part of today’s dating scene? Please share…