Women in their 50s, 60s and above are often forgotten in the safer sex campaigns but experts believe this group is particularly vulnerable to sexually transmissible infections (STIs).
Between 2004 and 2010, rates of chlamydia doubled in Australian women aged between 40-64, with infection rates among women in their early 40s rising 42% between 2009 and 2010 alone. (Data from National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System).
Women in this age group, some of which may be embarking on new sexual relationships for the first time in decades, often have trouble asking for advice from their doctor about safer sex. Many say they also find it awkward to raise the subject with their partner and are nervous about how to negotiate condom usage, particularly as the added benefit of avoiding pregnancy is no longer an issue after menopause.
While the benefits of condoms in preventing STIs are obvious, some older couples face difficulties due to physiological changes as we age. Post-menopausal women may experience dryness and thinning of the vaginal wall which may cause discomfort when using some types of condoms. In addition, if older women are partnering with older men, there may be concerns with condom usage and erectile dysfunction.
The good news is that there are a wide variety of condom types available, including ultra-thin types that have limited impact on sensitivity. If inadequate lubrication causes discomfort, Jean Hailes gynaecologist Dr Elizabeth Farrell recommends:
- Spending longer on foreplay and arousal – there’s no rush!
- Using a water-based lubricant such as KY jelly or Sylk
- Talking to your doctor about topical treatments to improve vaginal dryness
Other tips to facilitate condom usage include discussing their use in advance, keeping them in a convenient location e.g. in the bedside drawer, and if you haven’t used them before, learning how to put a condom on before you actually need to use it, avoiding stress and anxiety in the heat of the moment.
For more information on safer sex, talk to your doctor (remember there’s no need to feel embarrassed – raising the issue shows you’re educated on the risks of unprotected sex at any age).
Alternatively, visit a sexual health or family planning clinic (go to www.shfpa.org.au to find your State-based organisation).
Published with the permission of Jean Hailes for Women’s Health. To find out more about women’s health you can visit the Jean Hailes website www.jeanhailes.org.au, or make a free call on 1800 JEAN HAILES (532 642).