Misconceptions around sex and menopause can lead to false conclusions about the need for continued focus on safe sex and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Even as you age, and pregnancy is no longer a concern, you are still at risk of contracting an STD if you do not practice safe sex. With menopause being a time of tremendous physical change in life, it’s important to have the regular guidance of a health care provider who considers your entire health picture. At AdvantageCare Physicians (ACPNY), we care for the whole you and consider all of the physical, mental, and lifestyle factors that impact your health. Sex is a part of that conversation, including understanding how your risk of STD transmission might increase. Your choices, behaviors, and physical symptoms can indeed make menopause a stage of life where vigilance against STD transmission deserves renewed importance.
STD Transmission Rates in Aging Populations
In recent years, concerns around STDs in older generations have grown, with STD rates among people 45-65 more than tripling over the past decade.1 This increase may come as a surprise because many associate older age with less sexual activity, but that’s just not the case. So, what else is causing this increase in STD rates among older adults? There are several things to consider:
- Sexual activity: For older populations, sexual activity is on the rise. This is especially true for baby boomers, as they are having more sex as they age than prior generations. And, it’s important to remember that with more sex comes more potential exposure to STDs.
- New medications: Viagra and other popular erectile dysfunction drugs have made having sex easier for people at an older age.
- Decreased preventive care: Doctors and older patients are less likely to discuss STDs and sexual activity, leading to a lack of STD screenings.
- Weakening immune systems: With older age comes the weakening of immune systems, which makes the body less able to fight off infections and STDs.
- HIV misconceptions: People that are 55 years or older account for 25% of all Americans living with HIV.2 It can be harder to pick up on symptoms of HIV with older adults, as many HIV symptoms are similar to those of other illnesses that affect older populations. It is crucial that you talk to your doctor about your sexual history and practices, and that you get tested if you are at risk.
Practicing Safe Sex During Menopause
Because menopause ends the possibility of pregnancy, women and their partners often think that there is no longer a need to use condoms. However, you should absolutely still practice safe sex and use condoms, regardless of whether you’re able to conceive.
Additionally, specific bodily changes related to menopause can put you at greater risk of STD transmission.
- Changes to the vagina, such as thinning of vaginal walls and the narrowing and shortening of the vagina, can leave you more susceptible to genital injuries.
- Decreased lubrication can cause microabrasions that facilitate the entry of pathogens.
What You Can Do Now
Menopause brings a series of changes to your sexual health and experiences, and while pregnancy is no longer a concern, that doesn’t mean you can let your guard down when it comes to STDs and practicing safe sex. ACPNY understands that during menopause, women need to be careful and could benefit from guidance on topics they may feel embarrassed to discuss, like the threat of STDs. Your Primary Care Provider (PCP) and Care Team can help you prepare to practice safe sex and prevent STDs. If you feel like you may have been exposed to an STD, or that you are at risk of being exposed, you should schedule an appointment with your provider for a screening.
1. “Why STDs Are Skyrocketing Among Older Adults,” Everyday Health, February 3, 2012, https://www.everydayhealth.com/erectile-dysfunction/0203/why-stds-are-skyrocketing-among-older-adults.aspx
2. “HIV and Older Americans,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Updated and Reviewed September 18, 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/group/age/olderamericans/index.html