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Home / STIs / STIs In The Senior Population

STIs In The Senior Population

6 things you need to know about sexually transmitted infections in older adults

Many 50+ year olds are experiencing a renewed interest in sex, thanks to drugs like Viagra.

But what are the risks? Research has reported that older adults are at an increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as chlamydia and syphilis. In fact, the number of STIs diagnosed in people aged 50-70 has risen by a third in recent years.

According to a review published in 2017 by University of Manchester researcher David Lee, 60% of British men and 37% of British women over 65 were still sexually active in 2016. In addition, he found that at least 1 in 4 men and 1 in 10 women aged 85+ remain sexually active.

Many seniors who are sexually active are not aware that they could be at risk. But STIs can affect anyone at any age, whether you’re a senior or not. If you’re in this age group, and are sexually active, you should be concerned about sexually transmitted infections. Read on to find out about the prevalence, dangers and treatments of STIs in the elderly.

1. What kinds of STIs can affect seniors?

STIs, otherwise known as sexually transmitted infections, are infections that are spread from person to person through sexual contact. The most common ones—herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and syphilis—can actually be treated and cured. Whilst particularly prevalent in younger populations, anyone who is sexually active can contract an STI.

STIs that can affect seniors:

STIs are often asymptomatic. This means that in some cases, you could be infected and not even know it. The symptoms can also present slightly differently in older people, and they may have additional health problems that make an STI harder to diagnose or treat.

2. How prevalent are STIs in seniors?

Many people think sexually transmitted infections are something that only happens to younger people. In reality, the rate of STIs in the senior population has increased 23% over the last few years.

According to statistics released by Public Health England, in 2017 the number of men aged 65 and over diagnosed with gonorrhoea was almost a quarter higher than the year before. Within the same timeframe, a quarter more women aged 65 and over were diagnosed with herpes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that adults aged 50 to 84 accounted for more than half of all chlamydia cases in 2013 – more than twice as many as teenagers aged 15 to 19.

A recent study found that approximately 1 in 5 American adults are infected with the virus that causes genital herpes (HSV-2), of which an estimated 28% of people aged 70 or older have been exposed to the virus. Although these statistics are from the United States, it is reasonable to assume that a similar pattern exists in Europe.

Senior couple in bed

3. Why are the elderly susceptible to STIs?

When it comes to sexually transmitted infections, senior citizens are more vulnerable than young adults. As we get older, our immune systems weaken, making us more susceptible to infections. The reason is that ageing affects the body in several ways that can lead to inflammation, which allows viruses to thrive.

For example, research has suggested that Mycoplasma genitalium, a common sexually transmitted infection, may increase the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women and urethritis in men.

In addition, studies of syphilis show that the sexually transmitted pathogen is associated with inflammation and other markers that may indicate an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Older women are also at a greater risk of long-term consequences of HPV. HPV is the virus that causes genital warts. More importantly, it is also thought to be a major cause of cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina and anus in women.

In women, other bacterial infections such as bacterial vaginosis and urinary tract infection make it easier for STIs to enter the bloodstream. The results are most often genital sores, increased pain in urination or even fevers.

In addition, as women enter menopause, their vaginal tissues thin and their natural lubrication decreases. Dryness during sexual activity increases the risk of micro-tears and sexual transmission of certain infections. Fortunately, treatments are available to decrease vaginal dryness during menopause, such as lubricants and hormone therapy (HRT).

4. How can seniors protect themselves from STIs?

Adult seniors should use barrier contraception such as condoms for STI prevention but many older adults may not be aware they should be using them. Certain factors, such as whether a partner is monogamous or in a long-term relationship, can make it appear as though risk of transmission is lower than it really is. Even those who've been married for decades, however, should be careful.

Many seniors are divorced or widowed, which means they’re more likely to have multiple sexual partners. This can increase the risk of contracting an infection that can be passed on through unprotected sex.

Some women aged 50 and over also believe that, after menopause, they no longer need to use condoms. This misconception puts them at risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections.

Practicing safe sex, through condom use is the best way to protect yourself. But the risk of STIs in seniors is not just from unprotected sex. Many infections can be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact and through the mouth, eyes and other mucous membranes.

If you're over 50 and sexually active — whether you're dating, cohabitating or married — it's important to take steps to protect your health: use condoms consistently; and if you have a new partner, discuss your sexual histories before having sex.

Doctor holding up a condom

5. Should seniors get tested for STIs?

The answer is a definite yes. STI testing is important for everyone, but especially so for seniors. There's no reason to think that testing is only for adolescents. If you are sexually active, you should get tested for STIs regularly.

Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, show that STIs have more than doubled in the past ten years among U.S. adults age 65 years and older. Many people have an STI without showing any symptoms. The only way to know if you have an STI is to get tested. Tests for STIs are an easy way for older adults to protect themselves against potentially life-threatening health issues. Seniors can ask their doctor to test them if they show symptoms or if they want to be proactive about staying healthy in their golden years.

Tests for STIs are easy to take, but they're not always easy to ask your doctor about. It's important to know that while you can get tested online without seeing a healthcare professional, it's best to speak with your doctor for a diagnosis. Not only will they ensure you're aware of any discomfort associated with the test itself, but they'll also educate you on how to prevent STIs in general, as well as what to do if an infection is detected.

It is possible to get free tests for any STI on the NHS (National Health Service). You may be given a kit that includes instructions and everything needed to do the tests at home, or your doctor may do them in a clinic. If you're getting a swab test for gonorrhoea or chlamydia, the procedure is pretty simple. The health care provider will use a cotton swab to take some discharge and cells from your cervix (opening to the womb) or urethra (tube that carries urine out of the body).

Whether you are a senior at home, or in a retirement community, there is information available online to help you in your search for getting tested. Talk to a doctor if you're not sure whether an STI test is right for you.

Senior woman at the doctor office

6. What steps should you take if a test comes back positive?

If you do test positive, you will still need to seek medical treatment as some infections can cause damage over time. It's important to remember that there are ways to manage and treat most STIs.

If you’re reading this article, then there’s a high possibility that you or someone you know is looking for information on ‘STIs in the senior population.’ Your ageing, senior family members might not be talking to you about topics like this, but it's important that you let them know you're there and available for support.

Getting treated for an STI can make all the difference — most of them are treatable with antibiotics or antivirals. But if left untreated, they can cause serious problems.

Some STIs, including chlamydia, can have a more severe effect on seniors than they do on younger people, especially when left untreated. It can cause serious complications in both men and women, including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women and urethritis in men. Gonorrhoea is another bacterial infection that can lead to serious medical problems if it's not treated right away.

There are many treatments available for STIs, depending on the type of infection. Some medications (like aciclovir or azithromycin) can reduce the frequency and severity of outbreaks. Some medications may also cause side effects, so be sure to let your doctor know if you are experiencing any problems while taking them. A doctor will help you figure out what kind of treatment will work best for you and answer any questions you may have.

It’s also important you speak to your doctor as soon as you notice symptoms, as they may indicate a more serious condition, particularly in people over 65.

If you're not comfortable speaking face to face with a doctor, consider looking online for a reliable online doctor who can prescribe the appropriate medications for you.

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Treating an STI requires medical screening and possibly a prescription for medication. Older adults who contract STIs can get treatment at euroClinix. Getting treatment is easy, even for seniors with limited mobility, as your medications get delivered right to your door. Treatment options can be prescribed and purchased online, meaning that orders can be sent discreetly, conveniently and quickly. euroClinix's sexual health services are suitable for all residents in the UK. All medicines are delivered by post in discreet packaging, ensuring that your privacy remains protected at all times.

You will be prescribed medication that will cure you from an STI, but it's important to continue taking the medication even when you feel better to ensure that all traces of the virus have been eliminated from your body. Stopping treatment too soon could result in the infection reappearing in the future and make it more difficult for your doctor to treat you. Be sure to take all medications as instructed so you can completely eliminate the infection and prevent further complications from occurring.

Couple orders medication online
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Caroline Fontana Written by our editorial team
Last reviewed 26-08-2022
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