Number of over 55s diagnosed with STIs doubles in last decade

Experts say there are many reasons for the rise in STIs in the over 50s. (Getty Images)
Experts say there are many reasons for the rise in STIs in the over 50s. (Getty Images) (Getty)

Just as you're never too old to be intimate, you're also never too old to contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI), with recent stats revealing the number of over 55s diagnosed has more than doubled in the last decade.

When it comes to the reasons behind the STI rise experts suggest a combination of increasing divorce rates, forgoing condoms and the availability of Viagra.

Other factors potentially include the large number of older adults living together in retirement communities and the increased use of dating apps.

The research, conducted by the University of Warsaw, Poland, is due to be presented at a pre-congress day for this year’s European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.

The team looked at data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which indicates that rates of chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and syphilis among US adults aged 55 and older have more than doubled over the past 10 years.

They also found that, in England, 31,902 new STIs were recorded in the over 45s in 2015, which rose to 37,692 in 2019 – an increase of 18%, with the majority of new diagnoses in men who have sex with men.

High STI prevalence estimates have also been reported more broadly in older adults around the world, including in China, Korea, Kenya, and Botswana.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images) (Getty)

Researchers say that the root of the rise can be attributed from misconceptions around sexuality and sexual activity in older adults, stating that although the frequency of sexual activity tends to decline with age, older adults are still having lots of sex.

"People do not become asexual with age," explains Professor Justyna Kowalska from the Medical University of Warsaw. "In fact, with preventive medicine and improved lifestyles people are enjoying a healthy life and sex life for longer.

"Older people often find greater satisfaction in their sex lives due to experience and known expectations."

The team refer to another English study where half of men and almost a third of women aged 70 and over reported being sexually active.

Their own suggests there are higher levels of sexual desire, greater sexual frequency, and more sexual partners among older men than women.

A retrospective study from the USA involving 420,790 couples aged 67 to 99 years, found that widowhood was associated with an increased risk of STIs in older men, but not women.

The STI rates in men were also seen to soar when Viagra hit the market.

Professor Kowalska adds: "Rising divorce rates, forgoing condoms as there is no risk of pregnancy, the availability of drugs for sexual dysfunction, the large number of older adults living together in retirement communities, and the increased use of dating apps are likely to have contributed to the growing incidence of STIs in the over 50s."

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images) (Getty)

She believes the true number of older adults contracting STIs is likely much higher.

"The data likely underestimates the true extent of the problem as limited access to sexual health services for the over 50s, and trying to avoid the stigma and embarrassment both on the part of older people and healthcare professionals, is leading to this age group not seeking help for STIs," Professor Kowalska explains.

"These findings indicate that sexual risk taking is common among older adults, particularly men."

Study authors suggest that better communication and education surrounding sex in the older generations could help tackle the issue.

"Older people have a right to good sexual health, so let’s normalise conversations around sex and older people, and change the narrative on ageing," Professor Kowalska adds.

"Given that the number of people aged 60 years and older is set to double worldwide by 2050 and the widespread availability of drugs to enhance sexual activity, health professionals must be proactive in discussing sexual concerns and making sexual health a routine part of general health care for older adults.

Professor Kowalska points out that sexual health campaigns are mainly focused on young people,which overlooks the needs and experiences of those aged 50 and older.

"Health promotion messages give the impression that condoms and concerns about STIs only apply to young people," she continues.

"But the dangers of undiagnosed and untreated STIs such as HPV-related cancers and onwards transmission are very real, particularly in this age group who are more likely to have underlying conditions such as heart disease and stroke."

Increasing older adults’ knowledge of the risk of STIs and how to engage in safer sex is therefore crucial to tackling record levels of STIs.

"Tailoring education programmes to the over 50s and including peer support and ensuring they are located within existing community settings is vital to their success," Professor Kowalska adds.

Older couple kissing. (Getty Images)
Older Brits are enjoying a healthy sex life. (Getty Images) (Getty)

Need further proof that sex doesn't just stop when you reach a certain age? Just look to science.

According to research, conducted by OnePoll on behalf of LELO, people over the age of 50 are having the best sex of their lives.

While more than three-quarters (77%) had noticed significant changes to their sex life, for many it was for the better with 45% saying they've had the best sex of their lives as they've aged.

Though many respondents admit to having less sex now than in their youth, citing their 30s as the time they were the most sexually active, an impressive one in eight 50 plus-ers still have sex at least five times a week.

A further study, for the National Social Life, Health and Ageing Project (NSHAP), conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Chicago, found that almost three quarters (74%) of women aged 75 to 85 believed satisfactory sex was essential to maintaining a relationship, while 72% of men felt the same.

Turns out getting in on has multiple health benefits for the older generation too.

A recent study published in the journal Sexual Medicine indicates that sexual activity is associated with improved wellbeing amongst older adults.

Additional reporting SWNS.

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