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Sexually transmitted infections are surging, especially in seniors

Photographer: Dennis van Zuijlekom

“It’s really hard to talk about this. I know, because we’ve never learned to do that. But it’s never too late to learn.”

That's Joan Price, author of Naked At Our Age, and she knows what she's talking about. She is a sex educator who specializes in seniors. And she’s referring to bringing up safe sex practices for older people.

It’s a topic that is getting attention, because sexually transmitted infections have surged in recent years. According to CDC data,rates of syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia more than doubled in people 55 and older in the ten years between 2012 and 2022, which are the latest available numbers.

Clinicians in Southwest Florida are seeing this trend and trying to educate their patients who are in relationships that may not be monogamous on both sides. Mary Beth Saunders, DO, MPH, is System Medical Director for Infection Prevention and Epidemiology at Lee Health.

“They do talk about it with patients and the importance of screening. It’s always an interesting time of the year when they have the Fantasy Festdown in the Keys. And we have a lot of folks who go down there and come back. And that gives us a good opportunity to talk about safety and sexually transmitted infections and prevention,” she said.

Many of the infections may not have symptoms, Dr. Saunders noted, so it is important to ask your doctor to be screened regularly.

As for talking to a partner, here's what author Joan Price suggests for how to bring up what could be a delicate subject:

  • I always use condoms with a new partner, to protect us both. 
  • I’ll buy the condoms. Do you prefer a special kind? 
  • Do you have condoms, or should we make a run to the store?”

Dr. Saunders agrees that having condoms on hand is a good idea for someone with a new partner, or with multiple partners.
“Condom use isn’t just for an 18-year-old,” she said. “It can be for someone who maybe is on the other end of the spectrum of age, for protection.”

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