Maintaining Sexual Health Later in Life

Michelle Sobel Health Guide
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), unfortunately don't discriminate based on age. However, often times adults feel more immune to these infections because they are typecast as an affliction of the young.


    For example, this year, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Planned Parenthood, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and others are sponsoring a great awareness campaign by MTV to encourage young people to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases.  It's called Get Yourself Tested or GYT and it's a terrific campaign.


    While it is certainly critical to teach young people how to protect themselves, this important public health awareness effort only focuses on one small portion of the community. It needs to be broader in scope because even adults need to be taking sexual health seriously.

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    The facts show that, according to the CDC, the highest number of newly acquired cases of HIV/AIDS have been found in middle-aged adults, ranging in age from 35 to 44. Following closely behind is the group aged 45 to 54 with the least affected age group being the young people - those aged 25 to 34.


    Why might this be?


    Well, one thought may be that older adults are simply not protecting themselves as much as they should be. In a University of Chicago survey of single women ages 58 to 93, nearly 60% said they didn't use a condom the last time they had sex. A May 2008 study conducted by the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene showed that among single people with at least two sexual partners, 56% of people over age 45 reported using condoms the last time they had sex, compared with 61% of 25-to-44-year-olds and 80% of 18-to-24-year-olds.


    Even though the older, and assumed wiser, adults are not the focus of major sexual health awareness efforts, they are the ones taking the most risk. The new faces of HIV/AIDS and other STDs are not just gay men, the sexually promiscuous or intravenous drug users, it's the woman over 50 who doesn't use condoms because she's not worried about getting pregnant. Or even the 42-year-old divorced dad who's back on the dating scene again after many years and doesn't know how to bring up the topic of using condoms or regular STD testing.


    Viagra, Facebook, online dating, increased rates of midlife divorce, and a lack of awareness may all be contributing forces here. However, the reality is that STDs are no longer just an affliction of the young.


    As grownups, it's important for us not to follow the "do as I say, not as I do" mantra. STDs and their impacts are not taboo anymore, they are an important part of our regular health as adults.


    Here are some key reminders and actions older adults should take to keep their sexual health top of mind:

    • Protection, Protection, Protection. As an adult, it's easy to feel that simple protection devices like condoms (both male and female) are simply not important. After all, you might not be concerned with getting pregnant anymore. However, an STD can still pop up and when a simple condom could have saved you from the infection, it seems well worth the trouble.

    • Get screened regularly. Regular STD screening is an important part of staying sexually healthy. Most people want to know what regular STD symptoms look like. Many STDs may show no symptoms at all until down the road when they become very severe cases. A simple STD test can cut down your chances of this happening.

    • Talk to your partner about getting tested. Talk with your partners before engaging in sexual behavior. It's just best to know before you do anything and if you're serious about your sexual health, your partner should be as well.

    This month take the time to consider your sexual health. It's important for people of all ages to understand it. STDs and HIV are preventable. Use condoms every time you have sexual contact, be sure to get STD tested and make smart decisions about your sexual health like talking to your partner about testing. It's that easy.

Published On: May 26, 2010