An excerpt from Never Too Late: Your Guide to Safer Sex after 60.
The sexual revolution that began in the 1960s challenged social norms and traditional concepts, promoted acceptance, and liberated individuals from sexual repression. It effectively transformed society and how we, in the United States, thought about sex. Today, those same people are helping us see that sexual exploration in the Golden Years remains as vigorous as it was in the 1960s. Unfortunately, along with increased sexual activity comes the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.
It’s a common misconception that the younger generation is the only group susceptible to infection. Adolescents and young adults make up only 25 percent of the sexually active population, but they are diagnosed with over 50 percent of the sexually transmitted infections, so they are definitely top contenders. Surprisingly though, seniors over the age of 55—baby boomers—are actually one of the fastest-growing demographics contracting STDs. The children who explored free love at Woodstock and sexual promiscuity at Studio 54 are now thriving in retirement communities, with Viagra and Cialis in their pockets and nothing but time on their hands. Without the threat of pregnancy looming overhead, seniors are engaging in unprotected sex at an alarming rate. According to a study published by Athena Health, seniors have the lowest condom use of any population. This makes sense if the only reason you use a condom is to prevent pregnancy, but barrier methods (forms of contraception that create a physical barrier between the male’s sperm and the female’s egg) are also critical to preventing unwanted infections by blocking the exchange of body fluids, and all signs point to the reality that seniors aren’t using them.
Sexually transmitted diseases and infections are at an all-time high in the United States, with increases year after year for the past decade and no sign of relenting. According to the World Health Organization, more than 1 million sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are acquired every day worldwide. Each year, in the United States, there are an estimated 376 million new infections with one of four STDs: chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, or trichomoniasis. (This is a great time to consider your need for sex ed: how familiar are you with all of these incredibly common infections?) More than 500 million people are estimated to have genital infection with herpes simplex virus. More than 290 million women have a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the rapid increase in people contracting STDs must be confronted. And I agree.
Shannon Dowler is a family physician and author of Never Too Late: Your Guide to Safer Sex after 60.