- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), also referred to as diseases (STDs), can affect people of all ages.
- STI rates have more than doubled in the past decade among adults 65 and older.
- The most common STI in older adults is chlamydia.
- Older adults can prevent STIs by learning more about sexual health, having honest conversations with their partners, knowing their status, and practicing safer sex.
- You can improve your sexual function and sexual health with eDrugstore.
Older adults may not need to worry about unplanned pregnancy, but they should still protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Though condoms and other barrier methods are usually marketed to young adults, it’s older adults who have seen a rise in STI rates over the past decade.
Do Older Adults Get STIs?
People between the ages of 15 and 24 still maintain the highest rates of STIs in the United States. However, surveillance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that STI rates have more than doubled among adults 65 and older in the last decade.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since sexual attraction and function don’t magically disappear once you’ve reached a certain age. In fact, the National Poll on Healthy Aging shows that most adults between 65 and 80 agreed that sex is an important part of romantic relationships, regardless of age.
What’s the Most Common STI in Older Adults?
Rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis have increased among older adults in recent years. While rates of chlamydia dipped during COVID-19, it still remains the most common newly diagnosed STI in American adults. It’s also the most commonly diagnosed STI among older adults.
Rates of all STIs have risen in both older men and women. However, older men account for higher numbers of cases than women. Treatment for hepatitis B, the human papillomavirus (HPV), and trichomoniasis have also increased in the past decade.
Why Are Older Adults at Increased Risk for STIs?
The United States has improved its screening and reporting system for STIs, which naturally results in a rise in the number of cases identified across all age groups. However, this alone does not account for the dramatic increase in STI diagnoses for older adults.
There are several factors that increase an older adult’s risk for STIs. These include:
- Longer lifespans and improved mobility. As medical care and technology improve, Americans are living longer and are typically more physically active longer. This leads to more opportunities to have sex with new partners.
- New products and medications. Safe and effective erectile dysfunction medications have allowed men to stay sexually active longer. New products designed to improve female sex drive and lubrication have helped older women enjoy sex more frequently.
- New partners. Many older adults lose partners to separation, divorce, or death. In recent years, older adults have been more likely to re-enter the dating pool following the loss of a partner. Some older adults may enter into casual sexual relationships later in life, after having been in longterm, monogamous relationships for most of their life. Greater sexual freedom and experimentation can place older adults at risk for STIs.
- Limited STI knowledge. Many older adults did not receive sexual health education in their formative years. Research shows that older adults consistently score low when tested on their knowledge of STIs. Since many older adults do not need to worry about pregnancy prevention, they may assume they do not need to practice safer sex.
How Can Older Adults Prevent STIs?
It’s never too late for sex ed. Because older adults are still at risk for STIs, it’s important for them to learn how to prevent STIs.
You can still enjoy a fulfilling sex life while practicing safer sex. Here’s how:
- Learning the basics. Understanding the basics of STI transmission, prevention, symptoms, testing, and treatment goes a long way in staying on top of your sexual health. Knowing the facts also makes it easier for you to talk to your partner(s) about sex.
- Getting tested. Knowing your status is important to taking care of your health, preventing the spread of STIs, and starting a conversation with potential sex partners. Home test kits make it easy to check your sexual health status from the privacy of your own home. Make sure you know your partner’s status before you have sex.
- Practicing open communication. Having an open, honest conversation about STIs can help to prevent future spread. There’s no shame in having an STI, but discussing it can help you and your partner to have sex in a way that keeps you both safe.
- Using lubricants. Using lubricant not only feels good, but it reduces friction and the risk of any tearing during sex. Even the smallest tears in the vagina or anus can increase your risk for STIs. Don’t use oil-based lubricants with condoms, as this can cause condoms to break.
- Using barrier methods. Using a barrier method, such as an internal condom (female condom), external condom (male condom), or dental dam can prevent the spread of STIs. Condoms significantly reduce the risk of transmission, but they are not 100 percent effective for all STIs. Some STIs, such as HPV, can be spread through skin-to-skin contact.
The most common symptom of an STI is no symptoms at all; many STIs don’t show obvious symptoms. This is why it’s so important to get tested if you’re having sex with new or non-monogamous partners.
See your doctor right away if you display any STI symptoms. These include:
- Burning or pain during urination
- Burning or itching around the genitals
- Foul-smelling genital discharge
- White, yellow, or green discharge from the vagina
- Any discharge from the penis
- Bumps, sores, or rashes on or around the genitals
- Pain during sex
- Pelvic pain
- Painful, swollen testicles in men
Treatment for STIs
Some STIs can be cured, while others can only be managed. Bacterial and parasitic STIs are often successfully treated with antibiotics. Viral STIs, such as herpes, can be managed but cannot typically be cured.
STIs treated with antibiotics include:
- Trichomoniasis (parasitic)
Viral STIs are most often managed lifelong. Your treatment plan may require prescription medication, home care, and in some cases, surgery. Some STIs, like herpes and HPV, cause flare-ups off and on throughout your life.
Antiviral drugs are often taken to suppress viral replication and prevent further health complications. The sooner you begin treatment, the better your treatment outcomes.
Safe and effective medications for herpes available at eDrugstore include:
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You can have a healthy and fulfilling sex life, regardless of your age. Thanks to eDrugstore, you can have erectile dysfunction and sexual health medications delivered right to your front door. Use our complimentary online medical consultations to find the best medication for your needs.
Shelby is a public health professional with research and field experience in sexual and reproductive health. She holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) and is a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES).