What you need to know about seniors and sexual health

By Andrew McCutcheon

There are some questions about our health and relationships that you might not want to bring to your average Calgary seniors health centre. These questions, though, are especially relevant if you’re dating over 50 in Calgary or pursuing similar relationships. It’s time to talk about sex: specifically, sexual health for our seniors.  

We can be honest: it’s an awkward conversation! It brings back memories of uncomfortable classrooms as a teenager, getting the birds and the bees talk from your parents or many other similar situations.  

But the data says that seniors are having sex; and not only are they having sex, but the danger of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are very real.  

What we know about seniors and STIs  

There’s only so much available information at the crossroads between seniors and STIs, but what we do know is alarming.  

According to Health Canada, although the rates for these infections are lower among seniors compared to other demographics, the numbers are on the rise.  

Conditions like gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis increased by 87, 142 and five per cent, respectively, for those over 60 years of age, between 2005 and 2015.  

More recent data from the United States shows that this isn’t unique to Canadians. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that STIs “have more than doubled in the past ten years among U.S. adults aged 65 years and older.”  

But why is this happening?  

A lack of knowledge and research   

We know a bit about seniors and their sexual habits, but there is still lots of research to be done.  

One of the things we know, according to Health Canada, is that overall: “older adults to not perceive themselves to be at risk for [STIs].”  

Seniors don’t know about the risks for a variety of reasons. Since there’s not a lot of information out there, some seniors might assume there is no risk to them.   

Moreover, lots of the education these demographics might have received when they were younger might have focused on sexual morality or the risk of unplanned pregnancy, instead of educating them on the dangers of STIs.  

Finally, many seniors assume that — since they may no longer be at risk for pregnancy, due to menopause or age-based infertility — that sexual health items such as condoms are unneeded.  

What can we do to educate ourselves?  

There is hope, however! Health Canada stated that “interventions that sexual risk” are shown to be effective at providing the much-needed information for seniors to keep themselves safe.  

Consider this one of those interventions! If you’re sexually active, even with a monogamous partner, make sure that both of you have been recently tested for STIs; use sexual health items like condoms if you’re unsure of you or your partner’s status.  

And feel free to have those conversations with your doctor or health care providers.  

We promise it won’t be as awkward as you might think! 

Nikki