Older couple happy in love, bed

An older couple in bed (© pikselstock - stock.adobe.com)

The incidence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is persistently climbing among people of all ages. However, it may surprise you to learn that the group in which the numbers are increasing most rapidly is seniors over the age of 65.

The pace at which STIs are spreading in this group is alarming. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2010 and 2023, chlamydia cases more than tripled. Gonorrhea increased by 600%. Syphilis cases increased by a staggering 1,000%.

There are numerous contributing factors to this astonishing surge of STIs among baby boomers. Let’s examine the main factors:

Lack of Knowledge About STIs

In a 2020 study, researchers surveyed people between 65 and 94 years-old on the basic facts about STIs. Two-thirds said that women can tell if they have gonorrhea by looking at their bodies. This is not true.

Just half knew that there was a cure for chlamydia. The scientists suggested that the lack of knowledge is because baby boomers grew up when sexual health was not taught in most schools.

Older People Are Staying Sexually Active Later in Life

The development of drugs for sexual health, such as those for erectile dysfunction or vaginal dryness, enables sexual activity later in life. A study by the AARP found that 26% of 60 to 69-year-olds had sex weekly. Of those 70 and older, 17% had weekly sex.

Lack of Condom Use

Older people rarely use condoms. It may be because they see condoms as only for the prevention of pregnancy. In one AARP study, just eight percent of older individuals who were sexually active in the past month used condoms all the time. In another study, just three percent of people 60 and older used condoms in the past year.

Availability of New Sex Partners 

There is an increase in widowed and divorced people choosing communal living. In addition, there are dating apps that target older adults, such as OurTime, SeniorMatch, and SilverSingles.

A Gender Imbalance

The life expectancy of a woman is nearly six years longer than that of a man. The number of women who outlive their partners results in a “partner gap,” with older men having multiple female sex partners. With low or no condom use, such behavior increases the risk of STIs.

According to CDC data, there is a large gender gap in STI rates among those 65 and older. In this age group, men had seven times the rate of gonorrhea and 10 times the rate of syphilis compared with women. Some of the discrepancy could be from men having sex with each other, but it is probable that some men are having unprotected sex with multiple women — and knowingly or unknowingly – spreading infections.

Discomfort in Discussing Sex

Many older adults are hesitant to communicate with new partners about their sexual preferences and needs. They might not be discussing each other’s sexual history and recent STI tests. Healthcare providers may also be uncomfortable with discussing sexual activity among older individuals. One study reported that only 17% of people ages 65 to 80 spoke to their physician about sexual health in the past two years. Most of these conversations were initiated by the patient, not the doctor. Ageism no doubt plays a role, with healthcare providers giving in to the misconception that older adults no longer have sex.

There is an abundance of data showing older adults are having sex, which should prompt physicians to routinely ask older people about their sexual history and screen for STIs, as they do for younger people.

Tips For Safer Sex After 65

  • Educate yourself and partners or potential partners about STIs.
  • Find out a potential partner’s STI status with laboratory confirmation. Be prepared to disclose your own disease status.
  • Use a condom with intercourse.
  • Discuss your sexual health with your physician. Ask if you are at risk for some adverse event with sexual activity due to your medical conditions.
  • See your healthcare provider if you experience any symptoms consistent with what you’ve learned about STIs.

About Dr. Faith Coleman

Dr. Coleman is a graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and holds a BA in journalism from UNM. She completed her family practice residency at Wm. Beaumont Hospital, Troy and Royal Oak, MI, consistently ranked among the United States Top 100 Hospitals by US News and World Report. Dr. Coleman writes on health, medicine, family, and parenting for online information services and educational materials for health care providers.

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