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As CDC data shows, rates of sexually transmitted infections have risen sharply among adults age 55 and older

Sexually transmitted infections are becoming increasingly common in older adults.

Rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis among people aged 55 and over in the US more than doubled in the ten-year period from 2012 to 2022 Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number of syphilis cases in people aged 55 and over increased sevenfold during this decade, while the number of gonorrhea cases increased almost fivefold and chlamydia cases more than tripled during this period.

A presentation given Thursday – part of a pre-event for the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases next month – warns that both doctors and older adults are overlooking the risks of sexually transmitted diseases in this age group.

“We talk about smoking, we talk about diet, exercise, so many things and not about sex at all,” said Justyna Kowalska, author of the presentation and professor of medicine at the Medical University of Warsaw.

The problem is not limited to the US. In England Monitoring data The study, published in 2022, suggests that the number of STI diagnoses increased by 22% from 2014 to 2019 among people aged 45 and over. Chlamydia was the most common, followed by gonorrhea.

Kowalska pointed out a few factors that may be driving an increase in STI rates among older adults.

For one, people are living longer and enjoying more active lifestyles in their 60s, 70s and 80s compared to previous generations. For many, that includes sex. A Survey 2018 from AARP and the University of Michigan estimated that 40% of people ages 65 to 80 are sexually active and nearly two-thirds are interested in sex.

Hormone replacement therapy, which can treat menopausal symptoms, can prolong sexual desire in older women, while erectile dysfunction medications like Viagra can help older men remain sexually active.

But older adults may not have received the kind of sex education that teenagers are offered today, according to Matthew Lee Smith, an associate professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health.

“In the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, sex education wasn’t really done formally in traditional schools,” said Smith, who studies behavioral health risks in older adults.

Smith’s Research has shown that older adults lack some knowledge about the transmission, symptoms and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.

He said doctors can be embarrassed about asking older patients about their sexual activity and that older people are often reluctant to discuss their sex lives with peers or family members.

“Nobody wants to think about grandma doing that,” Smith said. “You definitely won’t ask grandma if she wears condoms – and that’s part of the problem, because every person, regardless of age, has the right to intimacy.”

Some older men may have difficulty using condoms, Smith said, either due to a lack of skill or erectile dysfunction.

In addition, he added, many older adults married at younger ages than is typical today and had only one sexual partner until they divorced or became widowed. As a result, some may not think about using a condom, Smith said — especially since pregnancy isn’t a problem.

Nursing homes also provide opportunities for new sexual partners. The results of a US survey The study of nursing home managers, published in 2016, found that sexual activity is widespread in these facilities, which often have more female than male residents.

“There is a partner gap in the heterosexual older adult community: women live longer than men and there is a larger proportion of women than men,” Smith said. “Often there can be multiple partners and partner sharing.”

Although sexually transmitted diseases pose a health risk for all ages, older people may have a harder time overcoming infections or be more susceptible to contracting them in the first place, medical experts say.

“The immune system is weaker, so it’s easier to get an infection, but there are other physical things that are just related to sexual intimacy that make you more vulnerable,” said Ethan Morgan, assistant professor of epidemiology at The Ohio State University College of Nursing. In postmenopausal women, for example, the vaginal lining is more susceptible to tears, which can lead to infection.

The experts emphasized that doctors need to better discuss the topic of safe sex with older patients.

“We want them to have their best life,” Smith said, “but we want them to have it safe.”

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