As STIs in older people continue to rise Age UK calls to end the stigma about sex and intimacy in later life
Published on 07 October 2019 11:58 AM
To address and challenge the negative stereotypes of sex and intimacy in later life Age UK, working in partnership with a Manchester based coalition, is running a social media campaign highlighting that older people are diverse in their desire for sexual intimacy and that anyone of any age can get sexually transmitted infections.
The campaign, which started on Monday 30 September, is running for 5 days and is centred around International Older Peoples' Day, on Tuesday 1 October. It has been developed by a Manchester based coalition of academic, public and voluntary sector organisations called the Sexual Health of Older People' (SHOP) working group.
The campaign is tackling themes around sexual safety and the need to use protection at any age, access to health services and how these need to be appropriate for people of all ages, as well as tackling issues such as diversity, women's health and emotional intimacy.
In 2018 there were nearly three times more new diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among men aged 45-64 than among women in the same age group. Men in this age group received 23,943 diagnoses of STIs, an 18% increase since 2014, while women received 8,837 diagnoses, a 4% increase since 2014 1.
Between 2014 and 2018 there was a reduction in the rate of new STI diagnoses in men aged 20-24 (7.3% less than in 2014) whereas in men aged 45-64 there was a 13.9% increase. There was also a 23% increase in diagnoses amongst both men and women aged 65+ between 2014 and 2018.2.
These figures show that STIs are a significant problem among older people and that there are increasing inequalities in sexual health between older and younger men, and between older men and older women.
Sex in later life can be seen as embarrassing and unmentionable but sexual relationships provide physical, mental and emotional health benefits for people, regardless of age. The achievement of sexual wellbeing can play an important part in older people's relationships and being comfortable talking about sex is essential to avoiding STIs.
In fact, analysis of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) shows that 80% of people aged 75+ agree that satisfactory sexual relations are essential to the maintenance of a long-term relationship.3. However, many people may not be getting the support from health care professionals that they need to remain sexually active as they get older.
Caroline Abrahams, Age UK's Charity Director, said: "Sex continues to be important for many of us well into old age, but for some reason the whole topic remains taboo in some circles. This is a shame and it also means that sexually active older people are at greater risk of STIs than they need to be or ought to be. Health professionals should be open about discussing sexual health with older people and certainly not immediately jump to the conclusion that sex is irrelevant once you pass a certain birthday. Public health messages around sexual health and STI prevention also need to recognise the reality that sex is a part of many people's later lives and aim to be inclusive of people of all ages."
Dr Dave Lee, Reader in Epidemiology and Gerontology at Manchester Metropolitan University says, "The sexual health of older people should not be overlooked by health care professionals in the broader context of maintaining well-being during ageing."
"Recognising that sexual health may be an unspoken quality of life issue for older individuals could also improve the relationship between physician and patients, with better outcomes for the latter."
The social media campaign material also includes taglines suggested by older Mancunians, who attended an engagement and consultation workshop we held on Valentine's Day this year. This campaign is one strand of working being taken forward by the SHOP working group as part of Manchester's WHO Age Friendly City initiative
Councillor Mary Watson, Lead Member for Ageing, Manchester City Council said, "Manchester City Council works hard to address the negative images and portrayal of ageing that older people tell us negatively impact on their confidence, self-esteem and wellbeing. This year, to celebrate International Day of Older People, we want to work together to be 'age proud' about intimacy in later life."
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For the Manchester report: Lee, D, & Tetley, J. (2017) "How long will I love you?" – Sex and intimacy in later life, University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University, Accessible via: