Health Topics

Sexually Active Seniors Vulnerable to STIs

Dr. Lauren Weber discusses the importance of screening for Sexually Transmitted Infections in sexually active seniors.

Screening for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) is not just for the young. STIs don’t discriminate by age or race. Any sexually active person can get infected with a STI. During the past decade, we’ve seen an increase in STIs among those ages 50 and older.

Some of the more common sexually transmitted infections include:

  • Syphilis
  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Trichomonias
  • Herpes
  • HIV
  • Hepatitis
  • HPV (human papillomavirus – linked with certain cancers).

Among those listed above, the rates of syphilis and chlamydia have especially increased among the baby-boomers. According to Dr. Lauren Weber, a huge part of the rise in STDs is the lack of education and screening. Many older individuals do not realize that they are at risk for STIs if they are not in mututally monogamous relationships.

Many of the baby boomers who came of age in the 1960s era of “free love” see no reason to slow down sexually in their golden years. With all of the therapies on the market for men with sexual dysfunction and with the availability of hormone replacement therapy for women, including a new non-estrogen oral therapy for painful intercourse/vaginal atrophy, it has become much easier for senior couples to maintain an active sexual life.

Protection Against Sexually Transmitted Infections

Another reason for the spread of STIs in the older population is that they don’t have to worry about pregnancy and therefore most may not use latex condoms. And, although there have been guidelines for STI screening in the younger population for many years; it has only been in the last few years that guidelines have been created for the older population.

Latex condoms can help reduce the spread of STIs at any age. However, not all condoms are created equal.

  • Latex and polyurethane condoms seem to work best at protecting against STIs.
  • Natural membrane or lambskin condoms DO NOT protect as well against STIs, but do help protect against pregnancy.

Using condoms for protection means using them correctly and consistently each time, otherwise they won’t work. Water-based lubricants should be used if using a latex condom and NOT mineral oil, which can dissolve condoms.

New HPV Guidelines for Women

Anyone who is sexually active should get screened for STIs:

  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guideline is to screen anyone born between the years of 1945-1965 at least once for Hepatitis C..
  • The CDC recommends screening everyone ages 13 to 64 at least once for HIV (or anyone in high-risk behavior or pregnant)..
  • HPV guidelines are to screen women up to the age of 65 as long as they have had adequate prior screening and have not had a high-grade abnormal pap test in the past 20 years.

Women should continue to be screened if they have had a total hysterectomy and also have a history of abnormal cervical cells (CIN 2 or higher) in the past 20 years or if they ever had cervical cancer. Continued screening for 20 years is recommended for women who still have a cervix and a history of CIN 2 or higher. Some clinicians may not be aware of these new guidelines.

I ask all of my patients if they want to get tested for STIs. This makes it easier on the patient, if they are too uncomfortable to bring it up.

The author, Dr. Lauren Weber, is board-certified in family medicine and osteopathic medicine and a certified menopause practitioner. She practices at the Center for Women’s Health, a NorthBay Affiliate.