When you’re young, the thought of old people having sex is … well, it may be so appalling to you that you can’t even consider the possibility.
But according to a 2007 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 53 percent of people between the ages of 65 and 75 and 26 percent between 75 and 85 were sexually active. Among the older group, 54 percent said they had sex at least two or three times a month and 23 percent at least once a week. People may slow down as they age, but that doesn’t mean the engine has stopped running.
Sex is not just for young people. And neither is the threat of sexually transmitted diseases, which are on the rise in older people. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), show that in the past decade cases of chlamydia, the most prevalent STD in this country, have tripled in men and doubled in women between the ages of 45 and 64. In addition, 15 percent of all new cases of HIV are diagnosed in people over the age of 50.
U.S. health officials have taken note and are considering expanding Medicare coverage to include more STD testing and to pay for STD prevention counseling.
Medicare already covers HIV tests.
Proposed Medicare STD coverage:
Chlamydia screening for all sexually active women 24 and younger and women over 24 who are at increased risk
- Gonorrhea screening for all women at increased risk
- Hepatitis B screening for pregnant women
- Syphilis screening for those at increased risk
- Behavioral counseling to prevent STDs for sexually active adolescents and for adults at an increased risk
Medicare provides health benefits for people over 65 and people under 65 who have disabilities. Some of the coverage under consideration is aimed specifically at detecting infections in young disabled women who are pregnant, but older people are also being targeted.
Thanks in part to performance enhancing drugs like Viagra and online dating services like Match.com, more divorced and widowed seniors are hooking up. Trouble is, they aren’t necessarily thinking about the possible health risks. Last year AARP conducted a survey of sexually active singles age 45 and older and found that only one in five used a condom. It may not occur to them because when they were young, condoms were used to prevent pregnancies, not sexually transmitted diseases.
Today, sex education classes generally include an abundance of information about preventing STDs but they’re geared toward young people. And yet, no matter what your age, if you’re sexually active the risks are the same.
Safe sex is a topic that even health care providers fail to bring up with older patients. In the NE Journal study, only 38 percent of men and 22 percent of women said they had ever discussed sex with their doctor since turning 50.
Even if you still can’t imagine it, it can’t be ignored. Old people have sex. If some are taking risks, it may simply be that they are not well informed about the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases, how they are spread, and how they can be prevented. With age may come wisdom, but if you aren’t armed with knowledge, how can you make wise decisions?
Maybe it’s time to start offering sex education classes for senior citizens.
Diane Atwood was the health reporter on WCSH-TV for more than 20 years. She is now a freelance medical writer and also has a health and wellness blog called Catching Health. To read her blog or learn more about the writing services Diane offers, go to www.dianeatwood.com/catchinghealth. You can also send her an email: email@example.com