And another sexual myth is busted: Not only are more people over 50 having sex, but more of these individuals are getting the sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) to prove it.
According to an article in the November/December issue of the journal MEDSURG Nursing, rates of HIV/AIDS, herpes, syphilis, human papilloma virus (HPV), and other STDs are climbing steadily in this age group. But the news gets worse: thanks to ageism and social stigmas, these diseases aren't really on health care providers' radar screens.
"Unfortunately, the common misconception still persists that people over 50 are no longer sexually active," writes co-authors Lisa Jeffers and Mary DiBartolo. "As a result, health care providers often do not discuss risky sexual behaviors and STD prevention with middle-aged and older adults."
Delayed treatment can wreak havoc with patients' health and cause serious complications and even death, Jeffers and DiBartolo explain. Early diagnosis increases the chances for a quick cure in many cases, they say, and also keeps costs down.
As far as incidence, most of the research has focused on HIV/ AIDS, with rates in the over-50 age group living with the disease jumping from 17% in 2001 to 24% in 2005.
For other STDs, an annual 2004-05 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report showed the following number of cases for people over 40 per 100,000 population:
Syphilis up from 4.0 to 4.8 individuals
Chlamydia rose from 33.4 to 37
Gonorrhea increased from 40.9 to 45.1
Jeffers and DiBartolo say some experts believe this age group is more sexually active than previous generations thanks to popular erectile dysfunction medications and hormone replacement. Other experts cite baby boomers' more liberal sexual attitudes, high divorce rates, and increased use of online dating services.
Several steps are urgently needed to stem the STD wave, Jeffers and DiBartolo say. Health care professionals first need to help patients feel comfortable discussing sexual matters, then educate them about risks. Providers should also do thorough physical assessments and screening tests, especially for HIV.
"Initiatives need to be developed to assist older adults in coping with a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS and other STDs," the authors write. Support networks could help them on a personal level, and government agencies, insurance companies, senior organizations like AARP, and communities should promote awareness by including STD facts in newsletters and other publications.
Originally published by MEDSURG Nursing Journal.