STIs are on the rise in every age group—especially in ours. Chlamydia and syphilis, for example, both doubled in the 55-64 age group between 2013 and 2017, according to the CDC. STIs also rose in teenagers (15-19), but not by nearly as much, percentage-wise. Athenahealth’s data shows that between 2014 and 2017, diagnosis rates for herpes simplex, gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, hepatitis B, and trichomoniasis rose 23 percent in patients over the age of 60. (HIV was not included in the data.) The overall increase in people over age 13 was just 11 percent.
There are a few things going on here. First, maybe we just assume that we are beyond all that. I hope the statistics help you remember that we are not.
Second, it’s physiologically easier for older women to become infected. The thin, dry vaginal walls that accompany loss of estrogen create small tears and microscopic vaginal bleeding during sex, providing a point of entry for the STI. Further, our pH balance tends to be less acidic after menopause, creating a friendly environment for bacterial infection.
In order to avoid STIs, you’re going to need to be your own advocate by doing things like buying condoms and insisting your partner use one and suggesting to your partner that you both get tested. Even if the results come back clean, use a condom for six months because it can take that long for some infections (including HIV) to show up. You can also practice good vaginal hygiene!
Sex after menopause can be great, and it has so many health benefits. Just make sure to protect yourself from STIs. If you think you might have an STI or have recently been exposed to one, go see your healthcare professional. Next to prevention, early treatment is best!
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.