According to a 2017 report (PDF) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are on the rise in the U.S. People ages 15 to 24 had the highest STD rates. However, there’s also been a sharp increase for another group you might not expect: adults over age 60.
For these adults, diagnosis rates for STDs, including gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes simplex and others, increased 23 percent in three years, according to an athenahealth analysis. That’s more than double the increase seen in the rest of the population, which saw a rise of just 11 percent.
STDs in Seniors
So why the STD boom among boomers? It may be due to a lack of awareness among this age group about STD prevalence and prevention, according to Laurie Archbald-Pannone, MD, medical director of the UVA Geriatrics Clinic at University Physicians JABA (Jefferson Area Board for Aging)
A common scenario, she says, is when someone older in life suddenly rejoins the dating scene after a decades-long monogamous relationship. This person may not have a history of STD education, so may not be aware of STD prevention or STD signs and symptoms. In addition, attitudes about sex in general have shifted over the past several decades, and STDs (also known as sexually transmitted infections, or STIs) were not a common topic of conversation.
Unfortunately, says Archbald-Pannone, many healthcare providers are missing an opportunity to educate this population about STI prevention.
“In terms of sexual health, we as providers readily talk about STI prevention with younger patients,” she says. “Among older adults, however, studies show providers are not having the same conversations. Often it’s because the provider is uncomfortable bringing up the topic. At any age, it’s difficult to discuss sensitive topics. But where we as providers can have a big impact is talking to our patients about sexual practices, sexual health and STI prevention.
“We have to make sure that as providers we’re well educated on these topics so we can be a resource for our patients. And we have to create a judgment-free, open environment so patients feel comfortable having those conversations.”
Tips for STD Prevention
For anyone entering a sexual relationship, Archbald-Pannone has the following advice:
Talk to Your Partner
Be aware of your partner’s sexual history and STD risk factors before being intimate.
Get Screened & Encourage Partners to Do the Same
If you are sexually active — either with a new partner, with several partners or if your partner has recently had sex with others — you should have an annual STD screening. There is no age cutoff for STD screening.
Know STD Symptoms
Educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of STDs. Some of the most common include:
- Bumps, sores or lesions around the genitals
- Discharge from the penis or vagina
- Painful urination.
If you experience any unusual symptoms after engaging in sexual intercourse, don’t delay treatment because the condition can get worse. Be sure to discuss your diagnosis with your partner so that he or she can get treatment as well.
Looking for Senior Healthcare in Charlottesville?
Make an appointment with a UVA geriatrician.
Condoms or other barrier methods used during intercourse prevent infections.
Talk to Your Doctor
Your sexual health is an important part of your overall well-being, so don’t hesitate to discuss your questions and concerns with your healthcare provider. Make your provider aware of changes in your sexual practices to ensure you’re making safe choices.