Sexual activity among older Americans has risen dramatically over the past decade, and with it has come a rise in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The combination of Viagra and Internet dating, which both came into vogue around 1998, gave seniors two necessary components for continuing their sex lives: opportunity and ability.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates, there were almost 900 cases of syphilis in 45 to 64-year-olds in 2000, and in 2010, the number grew to more than 2,500. In the elderly age group, 6,700 people were diagnosed with chlamydia in 2000; by 2010 19,000.
These are troubling statistics and not always easy to discuss. The older generation grew up in a different era where sex was a very discreet subject and people were not as open about it as is found today.
"Just like younger people, older people who are sexually active are at risk for STDs”, said Edgar Del Castillo, M.D., Obstetrics and Gynecology specialist on the staff at Advocate South Suburban Hospital. When Dr. Castillo was asked why he believes STD’s are on the rise among the older population he said, “Some older women who can no longer get pregnant may believe contraceptives are unnecessary or are just not as educated on the risks of STD’s.”
“Older men may feel that using a condom contributes to erectile dysfunction”, said Dr. Del Castillo. “When men go to see a doctor to get a prescription for a drug for erectile dysfunction, doctors should see this as an opportunity to discuss safe sex and the high risks of developing an STD.”
A growing number of older people now have HIV/AIDS. Almost one-fourth of all people with HIV/AIDS in this country are age 50 and older. But there may even be many more cases than we don’t know about. One reason may be that doctors do not always test older people for HIV/AIDS. Another may be that older people often mistake signs of the illness for the aches and pains of normal aging. Also, they may be ashamed or afraid of being tested. People age 50 and older may have the virus for years before being tested. By the time they are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, the virus may be in the late stages and more difficult to treat.
According to the National Institute on Aging the number of HIV/AIDS cases among older people is growing every year because:
- § Older Americans know less about HIV/AIDS than younger people do. They do not always know how it spreads or the importance of using condoms, not sharing needles, getting tested for HIV, and talking about it with their doctor.
- § Healthcare workers and educators often do not talk with middle-aged and older people about HIV/AIDS prevention.
- § Older people are less likely than younger people are to talk about their sex lives or drug use with their doctors.
- § Doctors may not ask older patients about their sex lives or talk to them about risky behaviors.
"You never have to retire from sex, but you always need to be cautious,” said Dr. Del Castillo.
Dr. Edgar Del Castillo practices Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Advocate Medical Group office in Frankfort, Ill. Call 1-800-3-ADVOCATE (1-800-323-8622) or visit www.advocatehealth.com/ssub to find a physician.