People over 45 at greater risk of STIs than ever before, study suggests

·3-min read
Blood sample for sexually transmitted infection (STI) test
Sexually-transmitted infections could particularly affect divorced adults who embark on a new relationship. (Stock, Getty Images)

People over 45 may face a greater risk of sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) than ever before, research suggests.

Scientists from the University of Chichester looked at nearly 800 people living across the south coast of England, as well as the northern regions of Belgium and the Netherlands.

The participants completed a survey about their attitude towards sex and knowledge of STI clinics.

When it came to contraception, up to 68% said they “never” use protection. When asked why, just over one in five (21%) said their age meant there was no risk of pregnancy, despite condoms also warding off certain STIs.

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Two in five were also unaware where their nearest STI clinic was, with the internet being the second most common place to get advice on sexually-transmitted infections, after a GP.

The scientists worry divorced people who embark on a new relationship may forgo condoms, assuming “pregnancy is no longer a consideration”, but “give little thought to STIs”.

Collection of colorful condomsSelective focus; shallow DOF
Condoms ward off certain STIs, as well as preventing pregnancy. (Getty Images)

“Over-45s at most risk are generally those entering new relationships after a period of monogamy, often post-menopause, when pregnancy is no longer a consideration, but give little thought to STIs,” said lead author Dr Ian Tyndall.

“Given improvements in life expectancy, sexual healthcare needs to improve its intervention for older adults and vulnerable groups to provide a more utilised, knowledgeable, compassionate and effective service.”

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The research makes up part of the three-year Shift study, which was launched in 2019 following a £2.5m ($2.1m) grant from the EU Interreg 2Seas programme.

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Published in a Shift report, the results show 52% of the participants who “experience socioeconomic disadvantage” never use contraception, compared to 68% of the more financially-secure adults.

In both groups of participants, 21% thought contraception was unnecessary given their age, with pregnancy no longer being a risk post-menopause.

A similar proportion in both groups were unaware of their nearest STI clinic, with 46% of the disadvantaged participants being in the dark, compared to 42% of the more well-off adults.

When asked about the barriers to them seeking sexual health advice from a medical professional, shame was one of the biggest factors for both groups, with the disadvantaged participants adding the services and medications are often too expensive.

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“Over-45s are at a higher risk of contracting STIs than ever before because of society’s unwillingness to talk about middle-aged and older people having sex,” concluded the scientists.

Dr Ruth Lowry from Shift added: “It is clear from the numbers reporting fear of being judged by important others who know them and by health professionals that stigma remains a crucial barrier to address in any sexual health promotion intervention.”

“The findings have also shown groups with one or more socio-economic disadvantages, such as homeless people, sex workers, non-native language speakers and migrants, are at even greater risk of being unaware of their sexual health and unable to access the appropriate services.”

The Shift researchers intend to come up with an effective sexual-health intervention by 2021. It will then be rolled out to healthcare professionals, with the research published in 2022.

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