Age No Substitute for Condoms

Campaigns to promote awareness and prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) are almost exclusively aimed at young people, but a recent study has shown that STI incidence amongst older adults has more than doubled in the past eight years.

STI’s consist of a variety of diseases, ranging in severity from treatable bacterial infections like chlamydia, to serious conditions like syphilis, and the worst being HIV, the precursor to the untreatable and fatal AIDS. Significant campaigns have been made worldwide to educate young people of these risks, but the following study shows that older people need to be better informed as well.

The study monitored 19 sexual health clinics, which from 1996 to 2003 had a total STI incidence of 4,445 among people 45 years or older. In this age group, genital warts (45%) was the most prevalent, followed by herpes (19%). Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were also diagnosed in significant numbers during this period. The majority of patients were straight men and women, with men being more likely to have an STI between 55-60 years of age, and women between 45-54 years of age.

In 1996, the over 45 age group comprised only 3.9% of visits to sexual health clinics, but this number rose to 4.5% by 2003. These increased visits are representative of the result that between 1996 and 2003, the rate of STI incidence in over 45’s rose from 16.7 per 100,000 to 36.3 per 100,00, which is a 127% increase. Over this period, by comparison, STI incidence in young people rose 97%.

The study notes that older people “are less likely to use condoms than younger people,” providing the primary explanation for this rise of STI incidence. Whether it’s a lack of information, faulty information that older people are at less risk, or simply ambivalence in later stages of life to STI’s, these results show that this is a significant and little talked about problem. When engaging in sexual activities of a casual nature, regardless of age, proper precautions, such as condom use, should be taken.

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Davies, Rachael. BMJ news release. June 2008.

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