Sexually Transmitted Infections and Aging

I teach a class on Sexuality and Aging.  I talk about a lot of things and spend a good chunk of it talking about Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

Following are the things I discuss.  I think it’s important (since I’m 64) that I discuss this here.

A growing number of older people now have HIV/AIDS. Almost one-fourth of all people with HIV/AIDS in this country are age 50 and older. This is partly because doctors are finding HIV more often than ever before in older people and because improved treatments are helping people with the disease live longer.

But there may even be many more cases than we know about. Why? One reason may be that doctors do not always test older people for HIV/AIDS and so may miss some cases during routine check-ups. Another may be that older people often mistake signs of HIV/AIDS for the aches and pains of normal aging, so they are less likely than younger people to get tested for the disease. Also, they may be ashamed or afraid of being tested. People age 50 and older may have the virus for years before being tested. By the time they are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, the virus may be in the late stages.

The number of HIV/AIDS cases among older people is growing every year because:

  • Older Americans know less about HIV/AIDS than younger people do. They do not always know how it spreads or the importance of using condoms, not sharing needles, getting tested for HIV, and talking about it with their doctor.
  • Healthcare workers and educators often do not talk with middle-aged and older people about HIV/AIDS prevention.
  • Older people are less likely than younger people are to talk about their sex lives or drug use with their doctors.
  • Doctors may not ask older patients about their sex lives or drug use or talk to them about risky behaviors.

Recent statistics from the CDC have shown that the number of new HIV infections is actually growing faster in individuals over 50 than in people 40 years and under, and HIV may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Other STIs  aren’t just a problem of the young. Seniors suffer from them, too. In fact, there are several reasons why older adults may actually be in more danger from STIs than their younger companions, including:

  1. Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show rapid increases in STIs among older people. Between 2007 and 2011, chlamydia infections among Americans 65 and over increased by 31 percent, and syphilis by 52 percent. Those numbers are similar to STI trends in the 20- to 24-year-old age group, where chlamydia increased by 35 percent and syphilis by 64 percent..
  2. Numerous factors have contributed to the increase in sexually transmitted diseases in seniors, and many of them stem from a single problem. Namely, clinicians and scientists don’t spend enough time thinking, or talking, about older individuals having sex. Not only are seniors usually overlooked in many STI studies, but they are frequently less likely to get screened for STIs than their younger counterparts.
  3. Also as people age and the assumption that they no longer are sexually active, doctors quit talking about sex and sti transmissions and checkups and women after menopause quit getting pap smears (or at least get less and less) which means an increase in cervical cancer which is caused by the HPV virus
  4. Retirement communities and assisted living facilities are becoming like college campuses. They cram a lot of similarly aged people together, and when they do, things naturally happen. As well as the lack of condoms and education when they are in Long term care facilities.
  5. Older people are living longer and are in better health. As a result, they are remaining sexually active much later into life. Several major surveys, including the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project and the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, report that among people age 60 and older, more than half of men and 40 percent of women are sexually active.
  6. Viagra
  7. Lack of screening for sexual problems can increase the risk of a disease going unnoticed for years, leading to serious complications.
  8. After menopause, women’s vaginal tissues thin and natural lubrication decreases. This can increase the risk of micro-tears and of sexual transmission of certain STIs
  9. Older people are less likely to use condoms, both because they don’t consider themselves to be at risk of STIs and because they were never educated that condoms should be part of their sex lives.
  10. The immune system naturally becomes less effective as people age, which can also increase the risk of STIs.

One comment

  1. johnullman · August 7, 2017

    Some anecdotal observations on Herpes. I’ve heard from some aging friends, and this is my personal experience, that HSV2 outbreaks become less frequent after 60 or so. Perhaps 1 outbreak a year, or less, as compared to 2 to 4 outbreaks a year. They also seem less severe.


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