Sexually Transmitted Diseases are on the Rise Among Older Adults
Jan 01, 2019
According to Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, today’s older adults are as sexually active as their younger counterparts. There is a false perception that older adults do not engage in regular, active sex lives after the age of 55. Several studies have conducted surveys among this demographic, and the results confirmed that older adults are participating in frequent sexual experiences. Results from the New England Journal of Medicine reported that 39 percent of women and 67 percent of men ages 65 to 74 said they had sex within the past year.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are on the rise among older adults. In 2015, individuals aged 50 and older accounted for about 17 percent of the total HIV diagnoses in the United States. Additional statistics for chlamydia, gonorrhea and primary and secondary syphilis include:
43,409 reported cases of chlamydia with individuals aged 45 and older in 2016, an increase from 2015 with 38,185 reported cases and 26,405 in 2012
33,879 reported cases of gonorrhea within the same age group in 2016, an increase from 2015 with 26,005 reported cases and 16,257 in 2012
5,650 reported cases of primary and secondary syphilis within the same age group in 2016, an increase from 2015 with 4,848 reported cases and 3,176 in 2012
Several factors contribute to the increase of STDs among older adults. Modern advancements in health care and medications have extended the human lifespan. Older adults have longer, healthier lives, which allow for a longer, healthier sex life. Medication advancements, such as Viagra and Cialis, have enabled more men to participate in healthy sexual activities. As the number of older adults engaging in frequent sexual experiences increase, so does the probability of a rise in STDs among this age group.
Many older adults also did not receive formal sexual health education, unlike younger age groups. The discovery of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the 1980s heightened safe sex and sexual health education in the United States. Many older adults only worried about the risk of pregnancy when discussing sexual experiences. A widespread belief among older adults is that since the risk of pregnancy is gone, there are no other risks associated with sex.
Individuals over age 65 are more vulnerable to communicable diseases (defined by Webster as “an infectious disease transmissible by direct contact with an affected individual or the individual's discharges or by indirect means.”) Individuals among this age group have weakened immune systems, which makes it harder for them to fight diseases and illnesses. STD symptoms in older adults are often misdiagnosed by health care providers. Late diagnosis of an STD can lead to serious health problems and could mean medications would no longer cure the disease.
There are many older adults living with a STD, and the diagnosis of the disease was late. Many organizations bring awareness to older adults about the risk of STDs, such as the Graying of AIDS. Graying of AIDS has profiled several older adults who are currently living with AIDS and HIV. One of the older adults profiled was Anna Fowlkes, age 64 at the time of the interview. Fowlkes accounts how after her husband passed away she ran into an old friend that she grew up with and they became close. She recalls how they had been intimate one night, which was unprotected. Fowlkes told Graying of AIDS after the man admitted into the hospital, she asked him if he was HIV positive –the answer being yes. She had educated her son about practicing safe sex but admits she didn’t take her own advice. She continues by saying “my generation used condoms as a means of contraceptive, not to prevent diseases.” Fowlkes has made it her mission to “uplift the infected, encourage the affected, and educate all to practice safer sex and get tested”, according to her personal website, annaefowlkes.weebly.com.
For additional information on sexual health among older adults, check out these resources: