Mini Med School: Seniors and sexual health

January 30, 2023

As people age, their bodies go through changes that might diminish sexual desire. But older adults are having sex, which can put them at increased risk for sexually transmitted infections, said Dr. Pamela Payne-Foster, a preventive medicine/public health physician with The University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences.

In the United States, more than half of people ages 50 to 59 are having sex, and almost as many between the ages of 60 and 69 are, said Payne-Foster, who is also a professor of community medicine and population health with CCHS. She said of people aged 70 and older, 48% of men and 22% of women are having sex.

“Seniors are having sex,” Payne-Foster said during a Mini Medical School presentation Jan. 24. “But condom use is not as high as it should be” for seniors, she said, leaving them at risk of contracting STIs, such as syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, genital herpes, Hepatitis and HPV (Human Papillomavirus), a leading cause of cervical cancer – as well as HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 2018 shows, 1 in 6 HIV diagnoses that year were in people over the age of 50.

Payne-Foster said risk factors for older adults and STIs include a lack of awareness about sexually transmitted infections, a belief that they aren’t at risk for STIs, no fear of pregnancy, and in women thinning vaginal walls that leave them vulnerable to infection.

She said condom advertising is beginning to include images of older people, “not just young people.”

Mini Medical School is a series of lectures provided each semester by faculty and physicians from CCHS and University Medical Center through a collaboration with UA’s OLLI program. CCHS operates UMC.