A new report shows sexually transmitted infections among people between the ages 50 to 70 have risen nearly a third in the last few years in the United Kingdom. Previous studies have show similar trends among Americans, as Psychology Today reported in 2014, "Since 2007, incidence of syphilis among seniors is up by 52 percent, with chlamydia up 32 percent."
The new report is part of an annual review of U.K.'s State of the Public’s Health, and was presented by England’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies. In it, her team posits the rising STI rates are connected to increasing divorce rates, fear of stigma preventing people from seeking treatment, and an increase in condomless sex as the perceived risk of pregnancy drops.
“It is possible that women, particularly post-menopause, do not use condoms because they equate condom use with preventing unwanted pregnancy rather than prevention of STIs,” Davies said in the report. “Similarly, men over 50 who may have had a vasectomy in their 30s or 40s may not consider using condoms with a new sexual partner.”
In 2010, sexual health clinics in the U.K. recorded 11,366 new infections among people between the ages of 50 and 70, according to the report. That number rose to 15,726 in 2014. According to a seperate United Kingdom factsheet, in 2015, there were 28,113 new STI diagnoses in people between 45 and 65.
The latest report also discovered that HIV cases accounted for 16 percent of all new STIs last year. The most common diagnoses in the U.K. were warts, chlamydia, herpes, and gonorrhea.
Additionally, Davies found that two-thirds of people between 50 and 70 reported at least one sexual partner in the past year, despite society’s misconception that sexual appetites diminish past a certain age. A 2012 version of the annual report found nearly half of those between 50 and 70 reported having intercourse at least twice a month, with 48 percent of men and 17 percent of women admitted to masturbating twice a month or more.
“Solo living in one’s 50s and 60s, especially among men, has become more common among successive cohorts,” the report stated, suggesting that social isolation plays a factor in the rising number of STIs. “In 1985, 9.6 percent of men aged 60 to 64 were living alone; by 2009, this had risen to 21.8 percent within the same age group… The rise in living alone in their 50s and 60s is of concern since those who are living alone in later life are less likely to receive support from informal sources, having no co-residential partner, and display a higher use of formal services than those who are not living alone. Moreover, living alone is itself related to poor physical health.”
But Dr. David Lee, who wrote the report’s chapter on sexual health, says increasing rates of STIs have more to do with a more liberalized attitude Boomers have become accustomed with.
“It could be to do with older people breaking relationships then re-partnering again,” he said to The Independent. “From a demographic perspective, we know that has happened over the last decade. There may just be more activity going on in terms of new partners, and having multiple partners in older age. Thinking about the Baby Boomer generation, growing up in the 60s, one would argue perhaps they were exposed to more liberal attitudes to sexuality.”
Boomers aren't the only ones facing increased risks of STIs. For example, syphilis has reached catastrophic rates among gay and bisexual men. The question now is how do we combat these rising rates of STIs, especially given the number of people having condomless sex?