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In Your 60s or Older? You Can Still Get STIs

Sexually transmitted infections are on the rise in older populations. Here’s why.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), like syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia, may be something you have long since forgotten about if you are an older adult. After all, aren’t they something that only affects teens and younger adults who are sexually active?

As it turns out, younger adults aren’t the only ones who need to protect themselves from STIs. These infections are more common in older adults than you may think. And the rate of infection among adults aged 65 and older has been steadily climbing.

Cases of STIs Are Rising in Older Adults

Cases of STIs increased 7 percent overall between 2017 and 2021. From 2020 to 2021 alone, rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia each rose 4 percent, while the incidence of syphilis increased by a whopping 32 percent. While all of these increases aren’t attributable solely to a rise in STIs among an older population, rates of STIs in adults age 65 and older have more than doubled in the past decade.

Why Older Adults Need to Pay Attention to STIs

Older adults are more at risk of contracting an STI than they may think. This is because:

  • They aren’t thinking about being at risk for STIs and may not take precautions to protect themselves from getting infected, such as using condoms and getting tested for STIs before having sex with a new partner.
  • They are less likely to use condoms since they are not concerned about pregnancy.
  • They may remain sexually active well into their golden years, thanks to erectile dysfunction drugs for men and hormone therapy for women.
  • They are more likely to be single due to the death of a spouse or divorce and may engage in sexual activity with new partners.
  • Those living in assisted living and retirement communities may have ample opportunities to engage in sexual activity with others who live where they do.
  • Symptoms of STIs in older adults are easy to miss or may be mistaken for other health issues common with advancing age so you may not know that you or your partner are infected.
  • There are no screening guidelines for STIs in older adults so you’re not likely to be tested as part of routine exams.
  • Doctors typically don’t talk to older adults about their sex lives and do not provide education about STIs and how to prevent them.

“Sexually transmitted infections by definition are not concerns of an individual. The approach and solutions should be focused on universal screening, education, and establishing connections to long term care with established follow up,” said Benjamin Wiederhold, MD, Medical Director of St. Joseph’s Medical Center’s Emergency Services and Clinical Champion for the FOCUS (Frontlines of Communities in the United States) and EDSP (Emergency Department Screening Program) programs. “We need to move away from a culture of embarrassment or shame and adopt a perspective of health and advocacy.”

If you are having sex with new or multiple partners, no matter what your age, take precautions to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections. Get screened, use condoms and talk to your doctor about risk factors and symptoms to look out for.

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Date Last Reviewed: February 20, 2024

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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