Sex: Frisky (and Safe) After 50
Changing patterns of sexual behaviour amongst some demographics are being reflected for instance through increases in the levels of STIs diagnosed amongst those over 50, whilst practices such as chemsex and use of dating apps can also be associated with higher-risk behaviour.
Dated preconceptions regarding the sex lives of those aged 50 and over are slowly being challenged and overturned. Over 80% of people aged between 50 and 90 are sexually active these days, with two-thirds rating sex as a vital component of their relationship. Regardless of age, sex is important to one’s overall holistic health.
Miss Julie Bowring, consultant gynaecologist in sexual and reproductive health spoke to Sheerluxe on the rise of STI’s, symptoms to spot and top tips for treatment.
1. Is it true that STIs are on the rise in women over 50? If so, what are the latest stats? How has this changed in the last few years?
Prior to covid, it had been noted that the number of STIs in men and women over 50 was on the rise. Data published from Public Health England showed an increase in the total number of chlamydia infections in men and women between 45-64yrs. The effect of covid and lockdowns may mean the numbers have since decreased, but sexual health in people over the age of 50 remains an important issue.
2. What is behind this rise? Why are more women getting STIs, and which are the most common in this age group?
There are a number of reasons why this rise may be occurring. The majority of sexual health campaigns still target a younger demographic, older women may therefore be less aware about their own individual risk of an STI. During a medical consultation older women are perhaps less likely to discuss STIs with healthcare providers and likewise healthcare workers may assume incorrectly they are less sexually active avoiding the topic as a result. Compared to the current curriculum, there also would have been less focus on sexual education when they were in school.
One other major reason may be that women over 50 are less likely to use a condom if there is no risk of pregnancy.
Previous data from the US stated that the three most common STIs in adults over 50 included chlamydia, gonorrhoea and HIV.
3. What are some of the myths about STIs that persist in women 50+?
Hopefully the above answers this?
4. What are the symptoms to look out for – are some more obvious than others? Do STI symptoms change later in life?
Many men and women will often have no symptoms from STIs. All infections can exist without symptoms, but particularly chlamydia is often asymptomatic. This just highlights the importance of safe sex and routine checks when you enter a new relationship.
The symptoms, however small, to look out for are:
1. Any vaginal discharge that is not ‘normal’ for you, this can mean change in colour, amount, odour.
2. Vaginal or vulval irritation or soreness
3. Ulcers or blisters on the vulval area (outside)
4. Genital warts
5. Swollen lymph nodes in the groin
6. Pain on passing urine
7. Bleeding after sex
8. When infection spreads to the pelvis (PID: Pelvic Inflammatory Disease), women can get severe lower abdominal pain and temperature
Women presenting with the symptoms above may be misdiagnosed as symptoms can be attributed to an alternative diagnosis. Vaginal and urinary symptoms for example, may be considered to be due to the menopause rather than an STI. The opportunity to successfully treat an infection can be missed, increasing the risk of transmission and later complications.
5. When it comes to getting tested, where can you get this done? How can you find services local to you?
Sexual health testing can be carried out in a variety of settings. Most people will attend a sexual health clinic or their GP surgery. If you do not have symptoms and want to have a sexual health check for peace of mind, this can be carried out at home by ordering an online kit. This can be a good solution for people that might have embarked on a new relationship or simply want to check their sexual health.
6. If you suspect you have an STI, how soon after having unprotected sex should you get tested?
If you have symptoms or you are concerned about having an STI you should visit a sexual health clinic or your doctor to get tested. Some infections taken time to show up on sexual health screens. This means you may sometimes have to repeat a test if you have recently had unprotected sex with someone.
7. Treatment – what are your treatment options?
Infections are often treated by simple antibiotics. It is necessary to treat your partner as well as sexual contacts in the recent past. Sometimes, a “test of cure” is necessary to ensure that the infection has been satisfactorily treated.
Infections, if not diagnosed and treated promptly, can spread to the fallopian tubes and the pelvis in women. This can lead to what is known as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). This is often characterised by severe pelvic pain and raised temperature. Admission to the hospital and intravenous antibiotics are sometimes needed in severe cases.
PID can lead to blocked fallopian tubes and infertility. If the fallopian tubes are partially blocked or affected, there is also a risk of tubal ectopic pregnancy. PID can also lead to scar tissue and chronic pelvic pain which can be difficult to treat.
8. Does having one STI put you more at risk of catching another?
Having an STI may increase the risk of you becoming infected with HIV. This is because some STIs lead to inflammation and broken skin which increases the risk of HIV transmission.
9. What are your top tips for safer sex in your 50s? Do you have any insights to share with our readers?
There is still a risk of having an STI in your 50s, protecting yourself by using a condom will prevent the STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea and HIV.
Sexual health tests can often be sent to you and carried out in the comfort of your own home, this is a great way to access testing if you are concerned about having an STI.
It can often be daunting talking about sex but healthcare professionals working in sexual health are trained to do this, do visit your sexual health service or doctor if you are worried about anything or have questions related to STIs.
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A regular sexual health check can be performed at any time for peace of mind. Why not book your sexual health appointment today.