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As we get older, do we still have to worry about Sexually Transmitted Infections?

Absolutely. We used to think
that Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) were confined to young people or those in the armed services away from home and engaging in unprotected sexual activities. But any sexual behaviour that involves the bodily fluids of another person carries the risk of infection at any age. STIs are increasingly diagnosed in those over age 45.

A lot of it has to do with our growing acceptance of casual sexual relations, higher number of sexual partners and early sexual behaviour following us as we age. Genital herpes, for example, has no cure and is easily transmitted — a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 20 per cent of Americans have genital herpes. HIV/AIDS is another concern. Recent data indicates that Canadians over 50 account for about 15 per cent of positive HIV tests in Canada every year — a number which is on the rise. Many seniors mistake the signs and symptoms of this and other STIs with other more common problems such as arthritis, dementia, diabetes and prostate cancer. Fatigue, fever, swollen glands, memory problems or other neurological disorders can mask an underlying STI.

Again, whether you’re a widowed senior citizen or divorce trying a new relationship or rediscovering old sexual partners, you are exposing yourself in a variety of ways, mentally and physically. A good example is the use of condoms for protection for seniors seeking relationships. Studies show only 12 per cent of women over 50 use condoms consistently. After menopause, many women forgo protection, thinking it only to prevent pregnancy, but menopause symptoms such as vaginal dryness and thinning vaginal membranes increase the risk of contracting STIs. Embarrassment and fear may cause individuals to avoid treatment which can create even more problems. And unless your clinician has details of your sexual history, it is difficult to diagnose an underlying STI. Talk to your doctor about your sexual activity, practise safer sex, get screened for HIV and other infections and educate yourself about the causes and effects of STIs.

BARRY WORSFOLD IS AN ADJUNCT PROFESSOR OF GERONTOLOGY AND TEACHES COURSES ON SEXUALITY AND AGING AT SIMON FRASER UNIVERSITY.

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