The ABCs of Midlife STDs
Rates are rising among older women — here's why.
Here’s a head-scratcher: While rates of sexually transmitted diseases are rising across all ages, the biggest increase in in-office treatments for STDs is among patients over age 60.
Wait, what? It’s been a while since I’ve thought about STDs.
Let’s start with a refresher: STDs or STIs (sexually transmitted infections), include syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydial infections, genital herpes, hepatitis B, genital warts, HIV/AIDS, HPV and trichomoniasis.
And you get them just through intercourse, right?
Yes, and no. Yes, you get them through (oral, anal or vaginal) intercourse, but they can also be transmitted by genital touching.
STDs sound just as scary — and embarrassing — as they were in my teens.
It might help to know that STDs are incredibly common: the CDC reports about 20 million new cases each year. It’s also important to know that not every STD leads to disease, which is where STIs come into play.
Why a rising rate among older men and women?
There are a number of special-to-midlife factors at play, including:
As we age, our immune system weakens, making it tougher to fight off infection and disease.
With menopause, many women feel a renewed sense of sexual freedom. They might be widowed or divorced and out there in the dating scene, no longer monogamous.
Due to the availability of medications (like Viagra), and greater awareness of things like vaginal lubricants and moisturizers, having sex is easier.
There’s really no way to know if your partner has an STD (and he or she might not even know it) because many times the symptoms are not apparent right away. (You can catch it before that person is even symptomatic).
Falling estrogen levels can lead to thinning of the vaginal tissues, making them more vulnerable to tearing. These micro-abrasions can then make it easier for infections and pathogens to enter.
How do I know if I have an STD?
Sometimes there are no symptoms, at least not for a while. But the good news is that if you can catch an STD early enough, it’s easier to treat, usually with a course of antibiotics or antivirals.
Here’s what to look out for:
Fever, headache or sore throat
Vaginal discharge, rash or itching
Sores, bumps or warts near the mouth, vagina, or anus
Painful or burning urination
Pain during intercourse
Safe Sex Reminders
Use a condom. Although condoms don’t totally remove the risk, they can significantly lower your chances of contracting an STD. Did you know that a female (or “internal”) condom can also be used to protect against STDs? Here’s some information on that.
Get tested, along with your partner, for STDs — and get treated, if necessary.
Multiple sexual partners increase the odds of contracting an STD.
Get screened: a simple blood test can detect HIV and syphilis; for chlamydia and gonorrhea it’s a throat swab, a swab of the vagina or penis, or a urine sample. (Annual screening is recommended if you have multiple partners.)
Vaccines are available for prevention of two STDs: hepatitis B and HPV.
What happens if you don’t treat an STD?
Untreated, your risk for another STD increases, because having one stimulates an immune response in your genital area that can then raise the risk of HIV. Also, untreated STDs can lead to certain types of cancer, infertility or organ damage.
And yet, here is the good news: many STDs are highly preventable, treatable and curable, including syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis.
Hepatitis B, herpes simplex virus (HSV or herpes), HIV and human papillomavirus (HPV) are incurable, but as the World Health Organization (WHO) notes, they can be reduced or modified through treatment.
Forewarned is forearmed, especially when it comes to foreplay. 😜
For a Pause
Florida is home to more than just shuffleboard and bingo. The state is making the news for many reasons, least among them the rising rates of STDs among seniors.
A post-pandemic world might bring on a whole new risk of STDs. Here’s why.
If you’ve got teens whose minds might be on sex, here’s some helpful information to share.
Be a fly on the wall and learn how seven women reacted to an STD diagnosis.
One More Thing
Don’t be one of those “weird” characters….
Stay healthy and see you next week!
Make love, not war
I know you've heard it before.
— Make Love, Not War, John Lennon
Know someone who could use a Pause? Why not share us with them? Thanks so much!
I think that is an excellent point — and an excellent suggestion. I love the idea of writing a script to practice knowing what you want to ask about and how. Thank you!
I think one of the reasons STDs are on the rise is that we don't feel comfortable talking about sex, and don't have the language or comfort to ask a partner to either wear a condom or to get tested for STDs. People need to practice talking about how to be safe and it's new territory for most older adults. Practice could include writing out a script on how to bring up the topic, or practicing with a friend, or in front of the mirror, to get more comfortable saying the words out loud. Yes, it will be awkward and could feel embarrassing but I maintain that if we're not comfortable talking about sex then how comfortable are we going to be actually having sex?