Baby Boomers Need to Be Taught About Safe Sex After Spike in STDs

By: Sam Watanuki | Published: Apr 05, 2024

In recent years, a surprising trend has emerged: sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the rise among the over-50s in the U.K. Research suggests an alarming 18% increase in cases, including gonorrhea and syphilis, within just four years among this age group.

This demographic shift challenges the common misconception that older adults are less sexually active or at risk. Experts warn that these numbers might even underestimate the true scope of the issue, as embarrassment and limited access to sexual health services deter many from seeking help.

The Changing Dynamics of Love and Sex Over 50

The landscape of romance and intimacy has drastically changed for those over 50. Factors like higher divorce rates, the introduction of Viagra, the popularity of dating apps, and vibrant retirement communities have all contributed to a more sexually active older generation (via Forbes).

Older couple hugs and smiles as they enjoy the sunset

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This shift in social norms and lifestyle choices signifies a critical need to address and adapt sexual health education to fit the changing times.

Underreported and Overlooked

The stigma around discussing sexual health in older age groups leads to a significant underreporting of STIs. Experts believe that the embarrassment associated with these conditions, coupled with a lack of targeted health services, means many cases go undiagnosed (via University Hospitals).

An image of several doctors looking over reports during a meeting

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This silence around the sexual well-being of older adults only exacerbates the health risks involved, underscoring the urgent need for open conversations and access to care.

The Statistics Speak

The numbers are stark: in England, new STI cases among the over-45s jumped from 31,902 in 2015 to 37,692 in 2019 (via The Daily Mail).

A rising graph on a piece of paper.

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This 18% increase is a clear signal that sexual health issues do not solely concern the young.

Breaking the Silence

The silence around sex and aging must be broken. Current health campaigns often ignore older adults, focusing primarily on the youth (via Global Health Action). This neglect leaves many without the knowledge or resources necessary for safe sexual practices.

A doctor talking to an elderly patient who is in a wheelchair.

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Sex needs to become “normalized” and part of routine health care for older adults, say health experts in The Daily Mail, who stress the importance of inclusive education and dialogue.

The Need for Tailored Sex Education

Professor Justyna Kowalska advocates for sex education programs specifically designed for the over-50s.

An older couple dancing together.

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In a press release, she suggests integrating these programs into community settings familiar to older adults, making them more accessible and effective. Tailoring education to address the unique needs and situations of this demographic can significantly improve sexual health outcomes.


Challenging Stereotypes

The stereotype that older people are not sexually active or interested in intimate relationships is outdated and harmful.

A doctor pictured in a long coat and a face mask speaks with a patient

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Cultural references like Samantha Jones from “Sex and the City” have started to challenge these notions, but real-life role models and open discussions are essential for changing societal perceptions and encouraging a healthy dialogue about sex in older age, according to Sharron Hinchliff from the University of Sheffield.


Sexual Health and Well-Being

While the physical aspect of sexual health is crucial, it’s also essential to recognize the impact on overall well-being. Sex can bring a sense of closeness, intimacy, and pleasure to older adults, leading to improved mental health and quality of life.

An elderly couple is seen from behind, walking arm-in-arm down a deserted suburban road lined with trees

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Additionally, discussing sexual health in older age breaks down barriers and stigma surrounding aging and sexuality.


Sexuality Doesn't Age

Contrary to outdated beliefs, many older adults lead active and fulfilling sexual lives. Surveys reveal that half of men and almost a third of women aged 70 and over report being sexually active (via the University of Manchester).

An elderly couple stands amidst a vibrant field of blooming rapeseed flowers. The woman, to the left, is wearing a red plaid shirt and has a wide smile on her face. The man, to the right, is dressed in a gray jacket and is also smiling broadly. The field around them is bright yellow

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This reality emphasizes the importance of continuing sexual education and health services well into later life.


Education Gap

A significant number of Baby Boomers grew up without comprehensive sex education, leaving them vulnerable to STIs.

Elderly couple holding hands and walking through a field

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The misconception that older adults do not need to worry about safe sex practices, especially when pregnancies are not a concern, contributes to risky behaviors. Closing this education gap is crucial for promoting safe sex at any age.


The Real Risks of STIs

Untreated STIs in older adults pose serious health risks, including HPV-related cancers and increased susceptibility to other diseases due to existing health conditions like heart disease and stroke (via Newsweek).

A doctor places his arm on a patient's shoulder as he speaks with him about a medical problem

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These dangers highlight the need for better awareness and preventive care to protect against the potentially life-threatening consequences of these infections.


A Call for Inclusivity

Addressing the increase in STIs among Baby Boomers requires comprehensive strategies that include education, resources, and support tailored to their needs without being patronizing. By fostering a society where sexual health is openly discussed at all ages, we can ensure that older adults are not left behind in our efforts to promote safe and healthy sexual practices.

A photo of an elderly couple sitting together on an outside bench, close to a watered area and surrounded by lush greenery

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The journey toward better sexual health for older adults starts with breaking down barriers and embracing an inclusive approach to education and health care.