Never Too Old: Seniors and Sexually Transmitted Disease (STDs)

July 30, 2013
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seniors and STDsTalking about sex with your aging parents: we’ll categorize that in the “TMI”, “no, please, never” categories. But despite your anxiety, it may be time to discuss the birds and the bees with Mom or Dad.

seniors and STDsTalking about sex with your aging parents: we’ll categorize that in the “TMI”, “no, please, never” categories. But despite your anxiety, it may be time to discuss the birds and the bees with Mom or Dad.

Consider these findings from the 2010 AARP report “Sex, Romance, and Relationships”:

  • Nearly 30% of seniors say they had sex at least once a week
  • Eighty-five percent of men and 61% of women said sex was important to their quality of life

Recent studies also reveal that rates of sexually transmitted disease among seniors age 50 to 90 are on the rise – doubling in the last decade. Today 80 percent of people age 50 and older are sexually active, and exposed to new health risks. According to the CDC, cases of syphilis numbered close to 2,550 in 2010, up from just 900 in 2000. Chlamydia cases in the 45 to 65 age group tripled from 6,700 in 2000 to 19,600 ten years later.

Why the rise in STDs among older adults? Fewer seniors are practicing safe sex. In the same AARP report, 88 percent of single men reported they did not use condoms during sex, often attributed to the fact that aging couples no longer worry about pregnancy and don’t think they carry STDs. This risky behavior may explain why rates of seniors with HIV have nearly doubled in recent years.

Clinicians also credit erectile dysfunction (ED) drugs with the rising STD rate in the elderly. In a study Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, men who took popular ED drugs such as Cialis or Viagra faced twice the STD risk versus men who did not take the drugs.

Increased longevity, high divorce rates, and mid-life dating also contribute to the trend. Public health proponents point to a lack of access to sexual health information as another source of the STD rise among the elderly. Physicians are often reluctant to breach the topic with the 50-and-over population, as are adult children.

What are some ways health care practitioners can promote safe sex among older adults?

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