Safe sex advice isn't only for 18-year-olds going off to college.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been a rapid increase in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among Americans aged 65 and older. Between 2007 and 2011, syphilis infections among seniors rose by 52 percent, and chlamydia by 31 percent. Shockingly, these figures are on par with STD trends in the 20- to 24-year-old age group, where syphilis increased by 64 percent and chlamydia by 35 percent. These diseases can take a drastic toll on senior wellness and quality of life.
A widely overlooked report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released months ago highlighted a staggering statistic: In 2011 and 2012, 2.2 million beneficiaries received free sexually transmitted disease screenings and counseling sessions. What's more, 66,000 received HIV tests. To put these numbers into perspective, the free STDs tests were as popular as colonoscopies among the 47.6 million eligible Medicare patients, totaling nearly 5 percent of all those receiving Medicare benefits.
The body parts from which STDs can spread include the genitals, rectum and mouth. Though most STDs can be cured, some are not, including HIV, which causes AIDS, genital herpes and human papillomavirus, which results in genital warts.
Cause and effect
Experts explain that there are three principal components behind this surge in sexually transmitted diseases.
First off, while seniors are having a lot of sex, many have ignored the safe sex warning because they think it does not apply to them. Sure, the possibility of pregnancy is a closed window. But infections can still spread regardless of age. A study released in the Annals of Internal Medicine noted that older men who use Viagra and similar drugs are six times less likely to use condoms compared to men in their 20s.
Second, retirement communities are evolving into elderly campuses of sorts. Many people around the same age and of similar levels of freedom are being clumped together, where one thing leads to another.
Third, people are living longer and healthier. As a result, many are remaining sexually active later in life. Studies from National Social Life, Health and Aging Project and the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior report that among people age 60 and older, 40 percent of women and more than half of men are sexually active.
"I didn't live to my golden years just to have doctors restricting me from sex" might be a common reaction for someone reading this. However, no one's keeping you away from sex, we are simply trying to drive home the potential risks and ways to practice healthy, safe sex.
The tricky part is that the infections may still be contagious in people who don't realize they're infected. Another underlying issue is that certain STDs, like HIV, can take up to six months before they are detected in the blood.
Keep an eye out for symptoms of STD – sores, redness, unusual discharge or growths – not only in your genital area, but your partner's as well.
With that being said, use a condom every time you have sex. Latex and polyurethane condoms are the best way to protect against disease, as they do not let the viruses pass through. For those with latex allergies, condoms made from sheep intestines do not prevent against STDS.
You're an adult. The biggest thing is to be responsible. Avoid sexual contact if you have symptoms of an infection or if you're being treated for HIV or an STD. Talk to your partner and ask him or her whether or not he or she has had an STD before and if he or she has another current partner prior to engaging in sexual activities. If you or your partner has herpes, steer clear of sex – including oral sex – when a blister present, and use condoms at all times.
Finally, the upsides of sex
After all the risks of sex, it's important to point out that sex indeed has many benefits that boost senior wellness. For starters, sex is a stress-reducer! Several studies have found that sexual intercourse lowers systolic blood pressure, which is the first number on the blood pressure test. People feel more relaxed after sex.
Since it stimulates your heart rate, sex counts as a great form of exercise. It burns about five calories per minute, according to WebMD. Like other types of physical activity, consistency maximizes benefits. Getting busy beneath the sheets also helps keep estrogen and testosterone levels in balance.
Following a session of lovemaking, you will likely sleep better.
"After orgasm, the hormone prolactin is released, which is responsible for the feelings of relaxation and sleepiness" Dr. Sheenie Ambardar, a psychiatrist in West Hollywood, Calif., told WebMD.
What it comes down to is that seniors should be sure to wear condoms and practice safe, healthy sex to prevent to spread of STDs.