Last month, we addressed the most common sex myths about baby boomers, debunking the false assumption that as people age, they lose their desire to have sex. While boomers are breaking the mid-life sex stereotype, new data is revealing that the era of "free love" mindset is beginning to catch up with its original practitioners in more ways than one. With a reminder that immunity does not come with age, the sexual health spotlight is being turned on boomers.
According to Ohio.com, data from Summit County Public Health, shows that in 2010, 20 percent of people who tested positive for HIV were over 50, a statistic that rivals the numbers of infected individuals in the 20- to 24-year-old age group. Furthermore, the report says sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes, gonorrhea and chlamydia are even more common, though older generations are less likely to be tested or request to be tested for STDs, thus making it difficult for reported cases to reflect actual numbers. Despite low testing rates, a red flag is being waved for this often over-looked demographic in the sexual health arena. In Australia for example, a small sample of notifications of chlamydia for baby boomers still show an increase between 2005 and 2009.
Dr. Deborah Bateson, medical director for Family Planning NSW, told Adelaide Now, "women who have reached menopause don't have the added incentive of using condoms to prevent pregnancy," which makes older women "simply not part of the 'condom generation."
Linda Kirkman, a PhD candidate at the La Trobe University Rural Health School in Bendigo told HuffPost50, "A key risk for younger adults is harm to fertility, which is not of concern to older adults."
In addition to sexual education being limited in their youth, Kirkman explains, "baby boomers became sexually active post-pill, and pre-AIDs, so have not had as much awareness or influence about STIs." Whether the lack of safe sex practices are due to ignorance or lack of concern, the consequences can be serious, if not deadly. Kirkman continues, "Delays in diagnosis and treatment (perhaps because sexual health concerns are not considered for older people) mean that an infection might be more entrenched and harder to treat than if it was dealt with early on. Also the immune system is not as strong and is not as able to fight infection as it would be in a younger person."
How can we spread safe sex awareness to this growing group? In addition to lack of prevention methods, STDs in older individuals are often misdiagnosed for other age-related illnesses, or not routinely tested for in the first place. We asked Kirkman, who recently discussed boomers and sex at the Ninth Annual Oceania Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics in Melbourne, what basic steps need to be put in motion to set the foundation for new research and policy implementation on this matter.
"Overcoming stereotypical attitudes towards ageing and sexuality will be a challenge," she told Huff/Post50. "An absence of policy means that there is much less STI testing, and therefore less reporting of infection, and less data on which to base policy. It is a negative cycle. Talking about the subject will be a way to encourage people to think about the need for safer sex, and having conversations about it with partners and health professionals."