Have you ever experience a time when you and your mate showed just a little too much affection and PDA in front of Junior? You know Junior’s reaction, “Ick, that’s gross!”. In Junior’s mind, it is completely inconceivable that his parents are capable of engaging in that kind of behavior, much less to say have sex. Sorry, Junior…your parents are like any other couple who need to express love through sexual intimacy. A number of studies have shown that older adults continue to partake in sexual activities until much later in their lives.
Having sex is not the issue for older adults. What is an issue is how older adults consider themselves immune to STDs, and continue to use unsafe sexual practices that they learned in their 20s. A number of health studies has verified that there has been an alarming rise of STDs for older adults in the past ten years. In its 2016 Surveillance Report on STDs, the Center for Disease Control reported that there were 82,938 reported cases of STDs in the 45+ ages. This was a jump of 20% from the prior 2015 year. Other CDC statistics show that the number of newly diagnosed HIV Infections is growing faster for the adults in the 50+ age groups than the under 40-year-old age groups.
Why the Rise of STDs for Older Adults?: The rise of STDs in the 40+ is the convergence of many factors: (1) societal ethos towards sexual practices; (2) medical advances that have impacted sexual practices; (3) events specific to the “season of life” (as young adults some 20+ years ago, and currently, as older adults) as it relates to sexual intimacy.
- The Era in which the 40+ Generation Experienced their Sexual Awakening: The Pill: Okay, a little history here. If you recall when you were a teen or college coed, a new birth control method was introduced called “The Pill”. By ingesting The Pill on a daily basis, women were freed from the worry of getting pregnant. Men, on the other hand, no longer worried about getting his female partner pregnant and thus stopped using condoms as a birth control protection.
- Fear of Contracting STDs Was Non-Existent: In parallel to the discovery of The Pill was the medical breakthrough of antibiotics which could easily combat any STDs. The antibiotics which required a short visit to the doctor, made STDs seem more like an inconvenience rather than a potential life threatening or long-lasting health issue.
- Safe Sex Education or STD Prevention Was Not Preached to the 40+: Prior to the advent of HIV/Aids in the ‘80s, sex education consisted of our parents teaching us about the “birds and bees”, and maybe a gym teacher showing a very boring video explaining how babies are born. Funny, but the only thing many of us could remember from SexEd was the gym teacher’s long drawn out pronunciation of the word “menstruation”? Times were simpler back then. There was no need for a more robust sex education until the arrival of HIV/Aids.
When HIV/Aids first arrived, everyone was terrified because its symptoms were horrific; and when contracted, meant certain death. The only real thing health officials seem to know about this new disease was that it was most likely contracted through the exchange of bodily fluids between individuals, and the only way to prevent it was to use barriers such as condoms. What ensued was an extensive and massive education campaign to preach the virtue of safe sex and the use of condoms to the next (not ours!) generation of teens and young adults. Not having these concepts drilled in our heads, our generation did not understand the value of practicing safe sex and using condoms. Unfortunately, this bad habit has persisted throughout our later years. This is echoed in a study conducted by Indiana University, in which they found that men and women over the age of 60 years had the lowest condom usage of any age group.
Bottom Line: The result of medical advances like The Pill and antibiotics was that our generation experienced an unprecedented level of sexual freedom which as 20+ adults many enjoyed in multiple sexual encounters until settling into marriage for several decades. In addition, The Pill and lack of sex education/STD prevention has resulted in the men of this era to be less likely to wear condoms which would prevent spreading STDs to their partner.
“Season of Life”: Fast forward 20+ years. As 40+ adults, new events related to this “season of life” combined with our past sexual beliefs/experiences have had a profound effect on our current sexual health.
- Death or Divorce: They say that 50% of marriages will end up in divorce. What this means is that there is a whole lot of middle-aged people who are re-entering a dating scene that is rooted in a different. As noted in an earlier post, today’s dating culture is dominated by an ethos created by dating apps and online dating, that encourages quantity over quality. Since dating apps allow singles to easily and quickly meet potential dates, older adults (like their younger brethren) are now going out on dates much more frequently than in the past generation, and are participating in more sexual encounters with individuals whom they have no clue as to their background or sexual history. More sexual encounters with multiple people with no protection (i.e. condoms)…well you know what that means…greater increase in STDs!
- Women are Post-Menopausal: At this season of life, many women will find themselves to be post-menopausal which means that they can’t get pregnant even if her male partner is unprotected. For some women, this new status allows her to be freer in her sexual experiences, or willing to engage in sex to please her male date (given that women far outnumber men in the dating world). And Repeat after me… More sexual encounters with multiple people with no protection (i.e. condoms)…well you know what that means…greater increase in STDs!
- Medical Advances for Erectile Dysfunction: With the invention of Viagra and Cialis, men can now have sex more often and throughout his older years. And Repeat after me… More sexual encounters with multiple people with no protection (i.e. condoms)…well you know what that means…greater increase in STDs!
- “I am Invincible” Syndrome”: Our generation’s cavalier approach to condom-less sex is further exacerbated by our “I am Invincible” syndrome, i.e. an erroneous belief that somehow we are immune from getting STDs. Noted Janet Pregler, M.D., director of the Iris Cantor – UCLA Women’s Health Center, “Many people have a bias that STIs don’t occur in their socioeconomic group or their portion of the population, and so feel that’s really for other people.” What’s even worse in talking to individuals, Pregler notes that they “feel that they could sort of look at a potential partner and figure out whether they might be at risk or not”. And Repeat after me… More sexual encounters with multiple people with no protection (i.e. condoms)…well you know what that means…greater increase in STDs!
*****Remember, STDs do not discriminate by age. Practice safe sex!!!****
Diagnosis and Prevention: Another factor accounting for the rise of STDs in older adults is the failure of health providers to check with seniors about their sexual activity, and to confuse STD symptoms with those that mimic old age. According to experts in this area, many doctors are uncomfortable asking seniors if they are sexually active; or worse, don’t think to even ask their older patients if they are sexually active because they don’t think older people have sex. Sadly, by the time an STD is diagnosed in older adults, it’s too late to get the benefits of early treatment. Moral of the story…if you are sexually active, don’t expect your doctor to ask whether you are sexually active. Just tell them! As the famous British saying goes, “Penny wise, pound foolish”.
****Cocktail Chatterers, have any other advice for safe sex and STD prevention?****
Let us know in the comments below!!!