A three-year study conducted by a team of researchers from the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands recently revealed that as a result of public stigma, individuals over the age of 45 are at a much higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
In a Monday release issued by the UK’s University of Chichester, one of 10 partners involved in the long-term SHIFT study, researchers concluded that those over 45 years of age “are at a higher risk of contracting STIs than ever before because of society's unwillingness to talk about middle-aged and older people having sex.”
“Shame was identified as the biggest barrier to accessing sexual health care services,” the release highlighted. “A number of participants felt that sexual health has become a ‘dirty’ term which is discouraging people from attending regular check-ups.”
Additionally, the study found that those over 45 living in socioeconomically disadvantaged situations, such as homelessness, were at an even greater risk of contracting an STI due a lack of knowledge on available health care services or for having less access to said services.
Nearly 80% of the survey respondents were between the ages of 45 and 65, with 58% of participants who identified as being socioeconomically disadvantaged between 45 and 54.
The study, which involved over 800 participants from southern England and the northern regions of Belgium and the Netherlands, also found that “negative attitudes” toward the examined age group’s sexual health needs was “associated with a generation unaware of the dangers of unprotected intercourse.”
"Over-45s at most risk are generally those entering new relationships after a period of monogamy, often post-menopause, when pregnancy is no longer a consideration, but give little thought to STIs," Dr. Ian Tyndall, a lead study author, said in a statement accompanying the university release.
"Given improvements in life expectancy, sexual health care needs to improve its intervention for older adults and vulnerable groups to provide a more utilised, knowledgeable, compassionate, and effective service."
Initial findings have led researchers to conclude that use of social media is the best way to promote sexual health services, and that there is an “urgent need” to create training programs that allow health providers to better address growing sexual health concerns.
Although a detailed analysis of the project’s findings are ongoing, researchers hope to release an “effective intervention” plan by 2021; however, the group’s research isn’t expected to be published until 2022.