February 01, 2019

Sexually transmitted infections

Increasing among older adults

You've been widowed several years, and your doctor asked if you've been seeing anyone. In fact, you have been, but the next question surprised you: Have you and your partner been tested for sexually transmitted infections?

Don't let a question like this from your doctor embarrass or offend you. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) may not occur as commonly in older adults as in younger people. But the rates of infection in older adults have risen dramatically in recent years. Moreover, there are risk factors for STIs that are unique to older adults, and older adults are less likely to recognize the risk — or to talk to their doctors.

Unique risks

Risk factors for STIs at any age include having sexual contact with one or more partners who have an STI, or having sexual contact with someone whose STI status you don't know. Another big risk factor is having sex without properly using protective measures — most importantly condoms — every time you have sex.

Among older adults, there are a number of additional unique factors that at least in part are contributing to increased rates of STIs. These include:

  • Low recognition of STI risks
  • Becoming single again after the loss of a long-time partner — or due to divorce or separation. This may open you up to becoming intimate again.
  • Increased use of erectile dysfunction drugs or hormone therapy, increasing the likelihood of sexual activity.
  • Less robust immune systems of...