A new campaign from the NHS will attempt to tackle rising numbers of STDs in over 60s by offering them free condoms. The initiative is thought to be the first of its kind aimed at the older age group and comes following some concerning figures. Off the back of this latest campaign, Your Sexual Health delve into the potential causes for this increase and take a look at the figures in greater detail.
The new NHS drive, which is currently only positioned in Derbyshire, comes amidst growing rates of STD incidence amongst over 60s. Some standout figures include: –
- 25 percent rise in the number of older men diagnosed with gonorrhoea between 2016 and 2017
- 25 percent more women diagnosed with herpes in 2017 compared to 2016. Which incidentally is not always preventable with condom use
- 15 per cent more cases of chlamydia amongst over 65s in 2017 when compared to 2016
When put into the greater context, these figure are still low, for example only 216 men over 65 were diagnosed with gonorrhoea in 2017, but the rapid increase will be a concern. There were 422,147 total diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections in England in 2017 across all age groups.
The Potential Causes
There are a range of potential causes for the rate of STDs to increase in over 60s. Rather than the cause being focussed on the STDs themselves, it’s possible this increase can be attributed more to a social shift. Here are some of the potential causes.
Divorce Rates Increasing
Although the total amount of divorces in the UK is decreasing, rates of divorce amongst older people are still rising. This means that there are more sexually active single adults over 60. If these people have been married for a long time, they are less likely to have recent experience using condoms or getting STD tests.
Online Dating Sites
The growth of online dating sites being used by all generations has meant that people are more sexually active than ever before. The opportunity for older people to go on dates and hook up with like minded individuals is more readily available. With this opportunity comes risks for any dates end with unsafe sexual intercourse.
More Male Vasectomies
According to Britain’s Chief medical officer, men who had undergone vasectomies were increasingly likely to put themselves at risk of infections. Once a man has had a vasectomy the contraceptive benefits of a condom are no longer required, but would a couple still feel the same if they were aware of the growing STD risk?
Less Awareness in Older Age Groups
STD rates are much higher in younger age groups which is why sex education now exists in schools and colleges to help drive these figures down. Younger generations are also much easier to reach via social media and other communication methods. Unfortunately older age groups are much harder to reach to raise awareness about growing figures which could impact them.
Embarrassment and stigma surrounding testing
Attitudes towards sexual health have shifted over the last 30 years, but older people who have grown up in a much more conservative generation may notice stigma surrounding STD testing. It’s important that this stigma is broken down in across all generations in order to ensure STD rates don’t continue to rise.
How can the trend be reversed?
Now that we’ve laid out the potential causes surrounding this increase in STD diagnosis, it’s time to ask how this campaign can be reversed? We asked Your Sexual Health’s Dr Rashid Bani, who is also a practising GP on his thoughts.
The free condom campaign
As we mentioned earlier, the NHS has created a campaign to hand out free condoms to over 60s, but currently the campaign is only based in Derbyshire. Dr Rashid Bani believes campaigns like this should exist nationwide, but you can’t force people to take the condoms or use them.
“Offering free condoms is a great way to ensure that people are able to practice safe sex regardless of their income or age. I don’t think it will necessarily solve the whole problem though. Many older people aren’t necessarily used to using condoms and they haven’t been educated in their importance in the same way as young people have.”
More Awareness of the issue
In comparison to STD rates amongst young people, figures are nowhere near as prolific amongst over 60s. Yet, if nothing is done, rates will continue to rise. Dr Rashid Bani believes that there is probably a lack of awareness about STD rates amongst the older generation which needs to be addressed.
“There is probably a bit of a complacency amongst older people that STDs are a young person’s problem. You don’t hear much information directed at this age range whereas young people are regularly reminded of the dangers. More campaigns targeting this older single population should definitely be explored to spread knowledge.”
More Discreet Testing Options
Younger people are much more open about sex having been taught about it at school and following a shift in attitudes over the years. For the older age groups though, particularly if they have been married, getting tested can seem like something to be embarrassed about. Although this is obviously not the case, Dr Rashid Bani believes more discreet testing options can help.
“Our service is all about being discreet and confidential which is excellent for older people who are maybe not used to receiving sexual health tests. Our appointment service and clinic locations make the whole process straightforward and relaxed. Sadly, this is not the case for most NHS testing. Clinics have long wait times with little or no options to book appointments, you’ll also have to sit in a waiting room with countless other people which can seem uncomfortable for someone who is not used to this process.”