It’s no secret that older Australians are just as sexually active younger folk, perhaps more so. But there’s a darker side to this sexual freedom in retirement that isn’t widely talked about.
Rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among older women are growing faster than those of younger women.
That startling finding was made by researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the nation’s top science body. In a study, CSIRO boffins examined trends in chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis among older women in Australia between 2000 and 2018.
They found the fastest growth in rates of all three conditions was among women aged 55 to 64, while rates among those aged 15 to 24 had declined over the same period.
The study notes that rates of STIs have increased across all age groups and, overall, STI numbers are still greater among younger age groups, but it was older women who had seen the greatest increase.
Chlamydia rates rose by an astounding 702 per cent among women aged 65 to 74, while gonorrhoea rates went up by an eye-watering 720 per cent in the same age group. Rates of syphilis among older women saw an increase of 542 per cent.
Previous research has shown that older Australians have a very active sex life and that a satisfying sex life has a positive impact on physical health.
So why hasn’t the ‘safe sex’ message delivered over the past couple of decades registered among older women?
“The issues are that many older women don’t see themselves at risk of STIs,” says sexual health physician Dr Terri Foran.
“They also probably missed out on the safer sex messages of the `80s and `90s because they might have been in long-term relationships at the time.
“What happens with time is that some long-term relationships break up, the messages [about safe sex] aren’t out there, and the playground has changed a bit, in that many women are negotiating dating apps. So perhaps the checks and balances in knowing the background of a partner just aren’t there.”
Dating apps and STIs have made for a dangerous combination in recent years, with the pandemic making the situation worse. As well as COVID, Melbourne has been dealing with an outbreak of syphilis in its outer suburbs.
Experts from Alfred Health have reported a 45 per cent spike in cases. Ophthalmologists have also reported a 20-fold increase in people presenting with syphilis-related eye infections.
“It’s an era of STIs and it seems COVID-19 isn’t impacting their spread,” says Monash University epidemiologist Dr Eric Chow.
Are you always careful to practise safe sex? What do you think could be done to lower rates of STIs among older women? Let us know in the comments section below.
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