Let’s get it on? No glove, no love? Why learning the new ABCs of STIs could save your health – and even your life

Health issues for boomers once began with a simple ABC: arthritis, blood pressure, cardiovascular disease. Now there’s another trio of letters: STI.

It used to be that people got into gardening and other harmless hobbies as they aged. These days, they get into bed – with each other.

Sometimes there isn’t even a bed. “Fornicating pensioners in public” was the news last year from The Villages in Florida, a retirement community where 100,000 people over 55 live and mingle. A 68-year-old married woman and a younger man who was not her husband were each sentenced to 180 days in jail for demonstrating their sexual technique in the public square of The Villages. The copulating couple likely had more to worry about than six months of celibacy behind bars and embarrassed explanations to the grandkids.

Rates of sexually transmitted infections among free-range boomers and seniors are rising like a penis at a porno fest. With better health and pharmacological support, they’re having more sex with more partners – especially in environments like cruise ships, retirement communities and assisted living homes where they come together cheek by jowl and other body parts, too.

“We’re seeing relationship switch-ups and serial monogamy after divorce or death ends long marriages, says Robin Milhausen, University of Guelph associate professor of family relations and human sexuality. More sex with more partners with no protection equals more sexually transmitted disease.

“Bacterial STIs are now more common than they were even a decade ago,” says Milhausen. “Bacterial STIs (gonorrhea and syphilis) have shown dramatic increases, although these can be treated with antibiotics. The viral STIs, also increasing, include the four Hs: HPV (genital warts), herpes, hepatitis B and C, and HIV. Drugs can generally keep them in check, but there’s no cure.”

To wit, some newly single boomers are opting for the HPV vaccine indicated for young people, says Dr. Greenberg, Toronto general practitioner and president of the Canadian Society for the Study of the Aging Male.

In the U.S., free tests for bacterial STIs have been as popular as colonoscopies among seniors eligible for Medicare. In Canada, nearly a third of unmarried boomers admitted to having unprotected sex with a new partner since turning 40 in a survey reported by the Canadian Medical Association Journal. One result: among senior Canadian men, the rate of gonorrhea increased by 99.5 per cent from 1999 to 2008.

So are Canadian men now more concerned about STIs? “Of course they’re not,” says Greenberg. “And of course they should be. The fact that these diseases still exist and that you can get them is a shock to most people.”

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