Would it surprise you to learn that heterosexual adults over the age of 45 are just as likely to contract a sexually transmitted infection as the under 25s? Well, a recent UK study has claimed exactly that…
According to research conducted at Glasgow Caledonian University, although the under 25s and gay men remain most at risk from STIs, heterosexual adults over 45 have recently seen significant increases in HIV, gonorrhoea, herpes, syphilis, chlamydia and genital warts. In fact, rates for chlamydia – the most common STI in the UK – rose to an alarming 63% among 45-64s between 2011 and 2015.
There’s a reason for collective surprise: sexually transmitted infections amongst the over 45s have been largely ignored. That is, until now. As a consequence of our ageing population remaining sexually active, coupled with an increase in the divorce rate, many STIs are now a common occurrence for those in middle – and even old age.
So, what are the most common STIs amongst the over 45s – and what are the symptoms?
What is it? Casually referred to as ‘the clap’, Gonorrhoea is an STI caused by a bacteria called gonococcus. The bacteria is mainly found in discharge and can easily be passed through unprotected sex, or even sharing unwashed vibrators.
Signs and symptoms: Although typical symptoms include a thick discharge, pain when urinating and bleeding between periods, almost 50% of infected women don’t notice any signs at all.
Treatment: Gonorrhoea is usually treated with a single antibiotic injection and a single antibiotic tablet. After this, most of your symptoms should improve within only a few days.
What is it? Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum subspecies pallidum. It is usually spread via contact with an infected sore during vaginal, anal or oral sex.
Signs and symptoms: Often known as “the great imitator”, its symptoms are often similar to many other diseases, such as: tiredness, headaches, join aches, swollen glands and a high temperature. Signs can also include: small, painless sores, a blotchy rash (often affects palms or soles of the feet), genital warts on the vulva, white patches in the mouth. If it’s left untreated, syphilis can eventually spread to the brain and cause serious problems.
Treatment: Antibiotics usually does the trick – either an injection or a course of tablets.
What is it? Genital herpes is a common infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Unfortunately this is a chronic, long-term condition that can remain in your body and can become active again. That said, it tends to weaken over time.
Signs and symptoms: The symptoms are so few at least eight out of 10 people who carry the HSV virus are unaware they are doing so. Like the HPV (see further down) symptoms may not appear for years after you are first exposed, but noticeable symptoms can include: small blisters around your genitals, vaginal discharge, pain when urinating, flu-like aches and pains.
Treatment: Your GP may prescribe antiviral tablets.
What is it? As we’ve already revealed, chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the UK, and can be passed from one person to another through vaginal, anal or oral sex.
Signs and symptoms: Frustratingly, most people don’t notice any symptoms at all. If symptoms do develop, you may experience pain when urinating, unusual discharge, or bleeding during sex or in between periods. If left untreated, the bacterial infection can lead to long-term health problems, such as pelvic inflammatory disease.
Treatment: Like syphilis, antibiotics are usually the drug of choice. It’s also important that any sexual partners you’ve had during the last six months are also tested and treated to help stop the infection spreading.
What is it? A very common viral skin infection cause by the human papilloma virus (HPV) that usually materialise around the genital or anal area in the form of small, often painless, bumps. It’s worth flagging that you don’t need to have penetrative sex to pass the infection on because HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact.
Signs and symptoms: The HPV virus doesn’t always develop into visible warts, but if they do, the most common places in women are: around the vulva, on the cervix, inside the vagina, around the anus or on the upper thighs.
Treatment: If genital warts do materialise, they can take weeks, months, and even years to develop – so even if you suspect, it’s worth seeking medical advice. Treatment can include a cream application, or physical ablation such as freezing.
For support or advice on STIs visit the NHS or use their local sexual health clinic finder.