Menopausal women and newly-single older people over the age of 45 are most at risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs), warns sexual health experts.
In 2016, according to Public Health England (PHE), there were 417,584 new STI diagnoses made at Sexual health services (SHS) and 30,000 of those concerned over-45s. Although that only represents a small pool of overall diagnoses (7.2%), the figure is rising.
And Sexual health charity Family Planning Association (FPA) found that in 2000 there were around 6500 men and women over the age 45 with a STI, but last year’s PHE figures show a fourfold increase in just 17-years.
“Many older people, single or dating, don’t think safer sex really applies to them. If you’re coming out of a long-term relationship it may not be something you’ve had to think about for years,” warns Natika Halil, Chief Executive of the FPA. “And after the menopause, when preventing pregnancy is no longer a worry, using condoms can be easily forgotten about. The result is that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have made a comeback in a new generation.”
This trend has led to an increase in all four of the main STIs among the demographic. The figures showed that 45 to 64-year-olds saw a rise in chlamydia, herpes, chlamydia, genital warts and gonorrhoea between 2012 and 2016.
The most recent findings from PHE also reveal that the rate of chlamydia, the most common STI, rose by 63% in this same age group between 2011 and 2016 while contractions fell among 15-24-years-olds in the same period.
Cases of gonorrhoea in 45 to 64-year-olds almost doubled between 2012 and 2016, while herpes contractions rose from 3,327 to 3,680 among the same age group. Furthermore, the number of genital warts diagnoses grew by 134 (from 7,714 to 4,848).
And Halil also stresses that just because young people are at a higher risk of contracting STIs that it doesn’t mean they are the only demographic at risk.
“Although younger people are more likely to contract a sexually transmitted infection, diagnoses of STIs among older people have been on the rise in recent years.”
“Almost 13,000 people over the age of 45 were diagnosed with an STI in 2009, double the number in 2000. Between 2011 and 2015, the number of people aged 45 or older who were diagnosed with gonorrhoea almost doubled, from 1,824 to 3,800 – a particular worry as we’re also starting to see gonorrhoea that’s resistant to antibiotic treatment
She adds: “You can’t tell whether someone has an STI just by looking at them, and as there are often no symptoms, people don’t always realised they have one. STIs pass from person to person through unprotected oral sex, vaginal sex and anal sex, and some can be passed on through close genital rubbing.
However, Halil also highlighted various means of contraception and advocated “experimenting with different types”.
“On the plus side, there’s a vast array of condoms these days – flavoured, thin for sensitivity, non-latex for those with allergies, textured and lubricated for extra pleasure, and lots of different shapes and sizes for a better fit,” she said.
“You can also get either internal (female) or external (male) condoms so it’s worth experimenting with different types until you find one you like. And if it’s been a while and you’re not confident handing condoms don’t be afraid to practice on your own.”