Even granny gets STD
Read this article folks!
Though statistics on the sexual habits of older women are scarce, data collected by researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health shows that among women ages 60 to 94, 34 percent of married women and 4 percent of non-married women report having had sexual activity in the past three months.
So why should we care what the older set is doing in its romantic life? These activities have made some unsuspecting women more susceptible to getting an STD—especially HIV, the precursor to AIDS.
“Lots of times the assumption is that women in older age groups aren’t sexually active, or that they are in a stable long-term partnership with lower risk,” says Dr. Divya Patel, the study’s lead author and a researcher in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Michigan. “In the past, you didn’t consider people who are 70 or 80 having sex. Now more couples are able to have intercourse over a longer period of time, due to drugs like Viagra and Cialis, so sexuality is extended into later parts of life, or in some couples it has returned. The main thing to note is that women in the older age group do engage in these behaviors that increase their risk of STDs.”
In fact, in 2005, 15 percent of all new HIV diagnosis was among men and women over the age of 50, according to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control. (The data does not differentiate between genders.) The CDC suggests that the number of older people newly diagnosed with HIV has stabilized—but data collected from small pockets of research around the country suggest the opposite.
“When you speak specifically about older people, there are a couple of problems with interpreting the data,” says Dr. Aletha Akers, assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “We don’t have detailed or accurate statistics for the older population—a lot of data just isn’t there. But of the data that is available through the Centers for Disease Control, it appears that HIV rates among older people are stable. There have been some specific cities and counties around the country that have more detailed statistics that show HIV rates among their older population is rising.”
Data are limited about other STDs in the older population since STD testing is not routinely performed. “[Older women] do get other STDs, but in a much smaller proportion compared to other age groups,” says Akers. Statistics show small but noteworthy numbers for STDs such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and HPV in women in their 40s and 50s, says Akers.
This is happening for myriad reasons. “It is biological, it is cultural, and it is social and health services-related,” says Patel. To be sure, more older people have HIV today because people are living longer and we know much more about effective treatment. However, several variables unique to the older set reentering the dating pool, whether through divorce or death of a partner, place them at risk.
What’s comfortable culturally for an older woman may not encourage her to make choices that will help her avoid an STD. “Many older women become sexually active with a new partner later in life,” says Patel. They may have been with the same partner for decades, and circumstances are different than they once were. Sex is more of a taboo topic, and older women are typically less educated about today’s sexual risks. “A lot the HIV and STD awareness has been targeted to younger groups, so they didn’t get that in school, or from their doctors,” says Patel.
Older women are less likely to have “the talk” with a new sex partner, and they’re less likely to use a condom. “After women go through menopause, childbearing is no longer an issue and they are less likely to use barrier methods like condoms,” says Patel.
What’s more, older women may be more susceptible to getting an STD because of physical changes that come with age. “After menopause, there is a natural thinning of the vaginal wall,” says Patel. “There’s also reduced lubrication for intercourse, so both those things in combination can cause a higher risk of tearing during intercourse.” Small tears that happen during vaginal intercourse are a common way for STDs to enter a person’s body.
Once an older woman has an STD, it is harder to detect and manage. STD symptoms may often be confused with the normal aches and pains that go along with aging, and are more likely to stick around in an older person with a weakened immune system. “There is an age-related decline in immune function that occurs naturally,” Patel says. “Older women who have a decreased immune function are likely to have more persistent infections which may lead to more serious consequences.”
The takeaway from this data is that grandmas reentering the dating pool can go ahead and have some fun. The key is to practice safe sex and stay informed.