These days, it doesn’t pay to stick your head in the sand when it comes to the subject of sex, especially if you’re having it—no matter how young or young-atheart you are.
And if you’re a single baby boomer and think you’re out of the woods when it comes to sexually transmitted diseases, think again.
As knowledge is power, I figured it’s time for us to have a chat about the birds and the bees—and STDs. If you’re not ready for this talk or just not having sex at this time, tune into my next column. But if you’re raring to go, here are some of the facts—and they can be frightening.
“STD rates among 50- to 90-year-olds have roughly doubled during the last decade in the U.S.,” according to a 2013 article at Prevention.com by Markham Heid, who adds, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that chlamydia rates alone jumped more than 32 percent among 45- to 64-year-olds between 2007 and 2011, and syphilis rates increased more than 15 percent during the same period.”
It seems the bottom line for avoiding STDs seems to be the QHS method—Quit Having Sex. However, if you have not yet implemented the QHS practice, Catherine Satterwhite of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention says, “using protection or sleeping with only one partner who you know to be disease-free are . . . reliable preventatives.”
The following information from the Prevention.com article is attributed to Satterwhite and Dr. H. Hunter Handsfield, professor emeritus at the University of Washington Center for AIDS and STD. As this is just a fraction of the most basic info, make sure to do your own research on symptoms and other details about these and other STDs.
Chlamydia: Over age 40, Handsfield says, “you’re beyond the age when the most dangerous issues are relevant.” However, he adds that the risk for HIV and some other diseases goes up with chlamydia, and it can also be spread to others. If you’re having unprotected sex with a new partner, get a simple urine screening. If contracted, the disease is treatable with antibiotics.
Gonorrhea: “Think of gonorrhea as chlamydia’s twin,” Handsfield says. “The most serious side effects relate to fertility and child-bearing.” However, if not treated, it can spread and might become life-threatening. Untreated gonorrhea can also boost the risk for HIV.
HIV: “Unlike most STDs, symptoms of HIV/AIDS often remain dormant for years,” he says. “Those infected may develop a brief but severe fever or flu within a few weeks of contracting the disease.”
According to the CDC, after a long period of the virus being inactive, active, symptoms like fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, night sweats or a loss of muscle and body weight can develop. While there’ s no cure for HIV, treatments are effective and, when combined with lifestyle changes that improve overall health, people can live for decades without severe health declines, Handsfield says.
Herpes (genital or oral): Can involve blisters or sores. While genital herpes is common, especially in women (about one in five), its impact is “more psychological than physical,” says Handsfield, adding that the presence of sores increases the chance of contracting HIV.
Human papillomavirus: “Most experts agree that almost every sexually active man and woman will contract HPV at some point, but few know they have it,” Satterwhite says.
But Handsfield has some reassurance: “The vast majority of HPV infections are a minor inconvenience and not a serious health threat.”
Syphilis: Symptoms include rash on palms or soles of feet, which, if untreated, can spread. This disease can cause blindness, mental disability, paralysis and death if not treated.
Trichomoniasis: If you read about the symptoms for both men and women, you’ll understand why Handsfield says, “It’s not terribly serious, but it is inconvenient.”
There’s a long list of other diseases and issues that include bacterial vaginosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, hepatitis and crabs, and sexually transmitted infections such as genital ulcers, urethral discharges, lower abdominal pain in women and asymptomatic STIs.
If you think you might have an STD, STI or any sex-related issue, talk to your doctor to get the proper evaluation—often it’s just a simple blood or urine test—and get treatment if needed. Otherwise, “The more sex people have, the happier they report feeling overall,” says sociologist Tim Wadsworth at the University of Colorado Boulder.