Could that burning 'down below' be an STI? Safe sex matters whatever your age

How to spot the signs of chlamydia, gonorrhoea and herpes

Testing and Treating STDs

You may not have the worry of pregnancy in your 50s and beyond, but that doesn't mean you don't need to use protection with a new partner. Sexually transmitted diseases among older adults more than doubled between 2000 and 2010 – and current figures are worryingly high.

See also: Sex toys for women over 50

See also: How the menopause effects your sex life

There are around 440,000 diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) made in England each year. If you think only homosexual men are at risk, think again. Heterosexual men and women accounted for 92% of genital warts, 92% of genital herpes and 86% of chlamydia diagnoses during 2014.

Over 50s having more sex
The over 50s age group is having more sex than ever. Of those between 50 and 90 years of age, 80% are sexually active according to a recent Student British Medical Journal report. With more people beginning new relationships in later life, there's more opportunity to spread disease, particularly if symptoms are overlooked.

And while many young people who have several sex partners will have been checked for STIs, over 50s, especially if they've been in a long-term relationship, may have never stepped foot inside a GUM clinic. Because some STIs, such as chlamydia and genital warts, may not be obvious to the carrier, it's possible for people to spread infection without knowing.

Here are just some of the STIs you should be aware of, whatever your age. See your GP or visit your nearest GUM clinic if you're concerned.

Between 2000 and 2009, the 45 to 64-year-old group saw a huge rise (130%) in herpes cases, more than any other age group. In 2009, more men over 45 had herpes than men aged 16-19. The number of cases diagnosed each year remains high.

Most people with the herpes simplex virus don't have any symptoms of genital herpes when first infected, and so may be unaware of a problem. Symptoms may not appear until months or sometimes years after exposure to the virus.

According to NHS direct, symptoms of genital herpes when experienced for the first time include small blisters that burst to leave red, open sores around your genitals, back passage, thighs and buttocks. Women may also experience blisters and ulcers on the cervix and vaginal discharge. Other common symptoms include pain when passing urine and a general flu-like aches and pains.

Even after the initial symptoms of genital herpes clear up, the virus remains dormant in the body and may be reactivated from time to time. Symptoms of a recurrent outbreak may include a tingling, burning or itching sensation around your genitals, and sometimes down your leg, before blisters appear. You may also notice painful red blisters that soon burst to leave sores around your genitals, back passage, thighs and buttocks. Recurrent outbreaks are usually shorter and less severe.

Between 2000 and 2009, cases of gonorrhoea in men aged 45 to 64 increased by 53%, and 90% amongst women in the same age group. The group to experience the biggest increase in cases was the over 65s. The situation hasn't improved in recent years. Between 2013 and 2014, gonorrhoea cases were up 19% - the second-largest proportional increase of any STI.

Symptoms of gonorrhoea usually appear within a fortnight of being infected, though you may not experience anything until several months later. Because 10% of people who are infected don't experience any symptoms, the condition may go undiagnosed for some time.

According to NHS Direct, symptoms of gonorrhoea in women can include an unusual vaginal discharge, which may be thin or watery and green or yellow in colour; pain or a burning sensation when passing urine. Less common symptoms include pain or tenderness in the lower abdominal area and bleeding between periods and after sex.

In men, symptoms of gonorrhoea can include an unusual discharge from the tip of the penis, which may be white, yellow or green, pain or a burning sensation when urinating, inflammation (swelling) of the foreskin and more rarely, pain or tenderness in the testicles.

Both women and men can develop an infection in the rectum, eyes or throat by having unprotected anal or oral sex. If infected semen or vaginal fluid comes into contact with the eyes, you can also develop conjunctivitis.

Chlamydia is the most commonly diagnosed STI across the age groups – with some 206,774 cases recorded in 2014. Cases of chlamydia amongst women aged over 50 increased by a staggering 95% between 2000 and 2009.

Seven-out-of-10 women with chlamydia don't experience any symptoms. If you do notice symptoms, the most common include pain when urinating, unusual vaginal discharge, pain in the stomach or pelvis, and pain or bleeding during and after sex. Women who are still menstruating may experience bleeding between periods and heavier periods than usual.

If chlamydia is left untreated, it can spread to the womb and cause a serious condition called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

More than 50% of men with chlamydia don't have any symptoms. If they do get symptoms, the most common include pain when urinating, white, cloudy or watery discharge from the tip of the penis, burning or itching in the urethra and pain in the testicles. Left untreated, the infection can cause swelling in the tubes that carry sperm to the testicles.

Finally, it's not just young people who are effected by HIV. Older people are the fastest growing group of HIV patients. The Terrence Higgins Trust predicts that cases amongst the over-50s will double in the next five years. If you're concerned, you can read about the symptoms of HIV here.