If you have a grandparent in a retirement community, read on at your own risk: Diagnoses of sexually transmitted diseases, like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HPV, have increased exponentially amongst the elderly. Don't believe us? Since 2007, syphilis has spiked by a gigantic 50 percent amongst Americans 65 and older, with chlamydia following close behind at 31 percent, according to CDC data. That's right: Old people are having a lot of unprotected sex. So next time you visit Grandma, don't bring her flowers. Bring her condoms.
If you think about it — and you probably don't wanna think about it too much — it makes sense. The 65-and-over generation were barely taught sex ed, and these days they don't have to worry about accidentally getting pregnant. They're living longer, and they're looking for something to fill the hours. Plus, retirement communities probably aren't tossing out condoms left and right. So, sex. Lots of sex, apparently.
Only five percent of senior citizens who have Medicare actually take advantage of free STD testing, and only six percent use condoms. So their rate of STDs is about as high as your average American college student, which is the first and last time anybody compared a retirement community to a frat house.
But maybe they're not so different after all. In a New York Times op-ed piece entitled "Sex And the Single Senior," Ezekiel J. Emanuel points out that retirement communities are run in similar ways to frats. You've got your dorms, your group gatherings, your lack of adult supervision, and dearth of things to actually do, like work. You're allowed to drink as much alcohol as you please, and pop in on whomever you choose. We won't go on, but needless to say, it's happening.
Clinicians must be aware of these trends and not overlook S.T.D. screenings when treating older patients. As you might expect, though, doctors are not very good at talking about sex in general and protected sex in particular — especially to the elderly. If doctors aren’t having “the talk,” we have to get safe sex counselors more involved at retirement communities and assisted living facilities. These facilities could also consider making condoms readily available, as they often are on college campuses.
We also need a big public health campaign on safe sex aimed not just at college students but at older people who are living independently. Maybe the AARP can push its constituents to be sexually responsible. Social Security could include some information on S.T.D.’s and how to use a condom when it sends out checks. Come to think of it, these data mean there is an untapped market: over 40 million Americans who are unfamiliar with latex protection. Maybe Durex and Trojan can mail free condoms to every Social Security recipient?
The mind boggles.