Health

Sexual health warning for middle-aged: Infections 'are on the rise among those in their 40s and 50s'


Sexual health warning for middle-aged: Infections are on the rise among those in their 40s and 50s… because they are too EMBARRASSED to visit a clinic, experts warn

  • Consultations for infections for those aged 45 to 64 soared to 336,000 last year
  • More than half of age group never had check for infections such as chlamydia  
  • Many of the 800 participants in study said they were ‘ashamed’ to get checked 

Sexually transmitted infections are rising among the middle-aged because of embarrassment and ignorance, experts have warned.

Consultations for the infections among those aged 45 to 64 in England soared from 287,000 in 2015 to 336,000 last year.

Researchers found that more than half of this age group had never had a health check for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea – despite a rise in divorcees having sexual relationships with new partners.

Sexually transmitted infections are rising among the middle-aged because of embarrassment and ignorance, experts have warned (stock image)

Sexually transmitted infections are rising among the middle-aged because of embarrassment and ignorance, experts have warned (stock image)

Many of the 800 participants in the study, for an EU project called Shift, said they were ‘ashamed’ to get checked, or felt they would be judged by doctors and clinic staff because of their age.

A quarter wrongly thought they had no risk, often because they had been through the menopause. 

Some agreed that potential solutions are sessions in sexual health clinics for over-40s or STI tests as part of routine health checks with GPs.

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Tess Hartland, study co-author from the University of Chichester, called for more awareness. 

She said: ‘There is a huge stigma around sexual health, particularly in mid-life and in older people, because many people wrongly think sex is no longer a part of their lives.

‘Another problem is that many of these people may not have been taught about sexual health at school, while advertising… tends to be aimed at younger people.’

‘We would like to see more awareness and knowledge, better access and less stigma around sexual health for older people.’

The survey is part of the three-year SHIFT project aiming to help professionals improve the sexual health of older people in the UK and Europe.

Looking at people with an average age of 57, who were not disadvantaged, it found 52 per cent of people had never been tested for STIs.

Almost two-thirds felt they were ‘not at all at risk’ of an STI, based on their current lifestyle.

Researchers found that more than half of this age group had never had a health check for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea (stock image)

Researchers found that more than half of this age group had never had a health check for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea (stock image)

While just over a third of people did not use contraception because they were married or in a monogamous relationship, around one in five did not use it because they were too old for pregnancy to be a danger.

Unprotected sex in older people, experts say, is not often discussed in terms of the risk of catching a sexually transmitted infection.

Reviewing existing evidence, the researchers highlight the threat of STIs as rising numbers of people divorce in middle-age and find new partners.

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But their survey shows 13 per cent of people felt the danger had gone because they had been through the menopause, or had a hysterectomy or vasectomy.

Another one in 10 said they were ‘not at risk’ of getting an STI, out of the subset of 614 people in the survey who were not disadvantaged.

Embarrassment appears to be a major reason why people in later life do not get checked for STIs.

While 212 out of 614 said they did not need to be tested because they had no risk, 107 felt too ‘ashamed’ to be tested.

Almost 190 people feared being judged by people they knew, the health worker swabbing or testing their blood, or even the receptionist in a clinic.

There were also issues with people not knowing where their nearest sexual health clinic was located, or being unable to get there. 



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