It may feel like an awkward or taboo subject to talk about…
But it shouldn’t be: Everybody’s doing it.
OK, not everybody — but according to a survey from the National Poll on Healthy Aging, roughly 40 percent of people between ages 65 and 80 are sexually active. And some two-thirds of those surveyed expressed they were interested in having sex.
For people aged 60 to 70 with partners, 46 percent of men and 38 percent of women have sex at least once a week. And 34 percent of those 70 or older do the same.
Sure, you might not be ready to dish with your friends all about your latest romantic interlude, or pass around tips about the newest bedroom craze. (Of course, if you are, that’s great — they might have some good ones!)
But it shouldn’t be something that you are hesitant to consider, research, or openly discuss with your doctor or a potential partner.
Here are some points to consider for a healthy, happy sex life as a senior:
First, let’s talk about the health benefits
Sex has been called the “antidote to aging.” It can relieve pain and improve mood by releasing endorphins… lower blood pressure… lower risk of prostate cancer… minimize risk of incontinence… release human growth hormones that help you look younger… boost the immune system… and overall improve quality of life.
But there’s an important caveat to these health benefits: It means maintaining sexual health… And unfortunately, that seems to be an issue on the rise for seniors…
Protecting your sexual health
Sexually transmitted infections (STI) among older adults have increased significantly in recent years, particularly among those who are widowed and divorced, according to a 2020 report. This is making STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, to name a few, more and more common among older adults.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2010 and 2014 for those 65 and older, chlamydia infections increased by about 52 percent, syphilis infections increased by about 65 percent, and gonorrhea cases increased by more than 90 percent.
That’s not all. In 2018, over half (51 percent) of people in the US and dependent areas with diagnosed HIV were aged 50 and older, according to the CDC. Even more, 1 in 6 new HIV diagnoses were among people 50 and over.
That’s a lot to be worried about, especially considering that seniors can have STIs without exhibiting signs or symptoms.
Why are seniors suffering more from STIs?
The rise in STIs is happening for a few reasons.
First, there are more single seniors than ever before (whether widowed, divorced, or those who never married), leading to new romantic and sexual partners. Their partnered counterparts aren’t hesitating to get busy.
Secondly, senior sex is often regarded as an awkward subject, even in medical settings. Even though seniors visit their doctors more frequently than younger people, older people and their providers are less likely to discuss sexual or drug use behaviors than their younger counterparts, according to the CDC.
It doesn’t help that seniors themselves are less likely to think that they are at risk for STIs. This is particularly true for divorced and widowed seniors, who likely spent their lives participating in one sexual relationship. Outside of preventing pregnancy (which may no longer be on your radar), you may not be fully aware of the importance of condoms for preventing STIs and maintaining sexual health.
This is especially true when you consider that many of these diseases can have longer-lasting impacts on your health, especially if your immune system isn’t as strong as it once was.
If you’re going to engage in sex, make sure to have an open, honest conversation with your partner about their sexual health and your own. And it’s always wise to consider condoms in order to prevent disease.
Safe sex and aging well
The last time you received sex education, it may well have been lacking in information beyond the idea of sex within a marriage. This information may no longer apply to your current sexual life.
And today’s broader, modern messaging about safe sex (outside of an individual doctor visit) tends to focus on teens and young adults, not seniors.
It’s important to educate yourself on sex for all stages of life.
The campaign Safer Sex 4 Seniors, for example, offers sexual advice and resources specifically for the senior demographic.
Some advice highlights worth noting include:
Know your partner’s sexual health status. According to one study, 90 percent of men over 50 did not use a condom either with a date or casual partner. Knowing your partner’s history and sexual health status can help you make an informed sexual decision.
Talk about condoms. If you are in a relationship that seems to be moving towards intimacy, talk protection in advance. Don’t wait until the last minute.
Use a condom, but know that it’s not a cure all. Condoms do not offer protection against herpes or human papillomavirus (HPV or genital warts), and it isn’t full proof for other STIs either.
Remember, all types of sex can spread STIs. This includes oral, vaginal, and anal sex.
Talk to your doctor. Not only can your provider help you practice healthy sex, they can also help you have better sex. For example, doctors can prescribe medications for common problems like vaginal dryness and erectile dysfunction (ED). And, because ED is often due to underlying medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety, or stress, an ED diagnosis can lead to other relevant screenings.
Get screened for STIs. Getting screened doesn’t necessarily mean a blood panel right away. The Sexually Transmitted Disease Knowledge Questionnaire (STD-KQ), for example, is a tool used by medical and healthcare professionals to screen older patients for potential STIs that offers a segue into a more in-depth conversation about STI prevention and sexual health.
During your golden years, there’s no reason not to enjoy sex and intimacy. In fact, there are lots of benefits to sex in your senior years. (If you are having doubts about this, just check out a few Golden Girls reruns.) That said, there is one right way to do it… safely. After all, age alone is not prevention.