CHICHESTER, United Kingdom — Popular culture tends to make it appear that sexuality is only for adults in their 20s and 30s. A new study finds that this hesitancy to discuss sensuality among older people is creating an emerging sexual health crisis. Researchers at Chichester University report that adults over 45 are at a higher risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection than ever before.
Why is this happening? Study authors point to two main causes. The first is a societal tendency to sweep sexuality among older people under the rug. The second is a general lack of understanding for older adults’ sexual health needs. They believe these two factors have combined to produce a generation of older individuals who lack up-to-date information regarding the world of sexual responsibility and protection.
Moreover, researchers also note that older adults living in particularly disadvantaged areas, both economically and socially, are at an even higher risk of sexual infection.
Older adults mingling more these days
This research is actually part of a larger on-going project known as the SHIFT Project, which is a three-year initiative intended to create a better strategy for cultivating healthy sexual habits among older adults living in Europe and the United Kingdom.
According to project leader Dr. Ian Tyndall, a senior lecturer at the University of Chichester, older adults are much more sexually active today than they were just a few decades ago.
“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,” he explains in a university release. “Given improvements in life expectancy, sexual healthcare needs to improve its intervention for older adults and vulnerable groups to provide a more utilized, knowledgeable, compassionate, and effective service.”
The latest SHIFT report features data on roughly 800 adults living in the U.K. and Europe, with about 200 of those participants being classified as socioeconomically disadvantaged.
How can older adults turn this troubling STI trend around?
The research team identifies four distinct areas that need to be addressed:
- Awareness: A large portion of participants are unaware of the dangers of STIs. Another 46 percent couldn’t name their closest healthcare center. Notably, social media appears to be the best way to foster more sexual education among older adults. Researchers say social media platforms are more effective teaching tools than leaflets or doctor appointments.
- Knowledge: According to study participants, their doctors and nurses just aren’t knowledgeable when it comes to sexual health and safety. Researchers believe there is an “urgent need” for a specific training program that teaches health professionals how to address these issues with older demographics.
- Stigma: Shame ranks as the number one reason why many older adults hesitate to discuss their sex life with doctors. Many participants say they consider their sexuality a “dirty” topic.
- Access: Many participants say their health centers offer little to no information on sexual health. Others say they struggle to reach these locations due to inconvenient operating hours or a lack of public transportation.
“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,” says SHIFT researcher Dr. Ruth Lowry. “The findings have also shown that 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.”