In light of this week being Sexual Awareness Week, one NHS trust in Hampshire is putting all their efforts in getting the message across to the over 40s. Although this may be surprising to read, it is in fact very much in line with reports that show consistent increases of STIs in this age group since 2011.
It has been quite well known for some time that individuals over 40 are at a higher risk of getting STIs than they may feel. Most experts have attributed the increase of STIs in this group to the way the consequences of intercourse are perceived and how much they should be discussed.
Whilst most 20 year olds would not find it odd to discuss their sexual relationships, many individuals over 40 tend to feel less comfortable discussing these issues. This becomes further complex when we realise that this effect also used to extend to GPs, that is, some studies in the past have demonstrated that GPs report feeling more comfortable discussing sexual health with 20 year olds than with 50 year olds.
Although it would hardly be surprising that individuals from younger generations worry about STIs and pregnancies, it appears that individuals older generations tend to believe that because pregnancy is not a concern, protection is needless.
This wilful blindness can be particularly damaging when we consider that the increase of divorces and internet dating has spiked in the over 40s. It seems to echo findings from The Royal Pharmaceutical Society who reported that 20 percent of people between the ages of 45 to 54 had unprotected sex last year. When comparing this to recent data from the Health Protection Agency, which shows that HIV diagnoses alone have doubled in the over-50s for the past ten years it is clear to see where the drive is coming from.
All of this information points to the need to consider this area holistically. Naturally it is helpful to urge individuals over 40 to get tested and to inform them about the risks they are facing. But if they are finding it challenging to discuss these issues in a face-to-face consultation, then it may be worth asking if there are other ways to get around the embarrassment they may feel.
Nevertheless, it is astonishing to see that sexual health is given due attention in the UK. Comparing today’s access to sexual health services, GUM clinics and birth control to what it was 20 years ago shows how far the UK has come. The complexity of needs is constantly addressed and re-evaluated.