STDs, midlife and beyond

Baby boomers are experiencing a new kind of boom-STDs. Find out why they're on the rise.

Andrea Markowitz, Ph.D.

HealthKey.com contributor

April 23, 2010


Baby boomers, and even their parents and adult children, are experiencing a new type of boom-in acquiring sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Why are STDs on the rise in the 45+ population, and what should we do about it?

Reasons for the Increase

A growing number of midlife and senior adults are engaging in sexual activity and ignoring the risks of unprotected sex. According to a study reported in U.S. Pharmacist, seniors are one-sixth less likely to use condoms than people in their 20s.

In their defense, seniors grew up when talking about sex was taboo, talking about STDs was even more taboo, and formal sex education-where they would have learned about STDs and how to prevent them-hadn't been "invented." But adults who did have formal sex education have no excuses, except laziness, denial--or skipping class.

Compounding the problem is that a decline in immunity in older people makes them more vulnerable to contracting STDs. Additionally, decreased vaginal lubrication and thinning of the vaginal walls increases the risk of micro-tears in post-menopausal women, and these tears facilitate the transmission of STDs.

The Evidence

Researchers at England's West Midlands Health Protection Agency found between 1996 and 2003, STD rates for Chlamydia, genital herpes, genital warts, gonorrhoea and syphilis more than doubled among people 45+. Males in the 55 to 59 age range were significantly more likely to be affected.

The American Geriatrics Society (AGS) Foundation for Health in Aging reports studies that found the same trend of increasing incidences of other STDs: the human papilloma virus, which causes genital and anal warts and cervical cancer, and the human immune deficiency virus ( HIV), which causes AIDS. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that adults aged 50+ make up 10 percent of all new AIDS cases.

The implications? Health care providers should talk routinely to their older patients about the dangers of unprotected sex.

What You Need To Know

When having sex with a new partner:

For more information visit Global Action on Aging.