It’s a topic most people wouldn’t think twice about... Seniors and their sex life.
But as one UNLV researcher has discovered, southern Nevadans 65 and older are at a high risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections.
Amanda Morgan is a public health expert and UNLV professor. She recently conducted a large research trial talking to seniors about their sex lives and why doctors aren’t talking to seniors about having safe sex.
Morgan recruited respondents through Las Vegas senior centers and the UNLV lifelong learners program. She also did outreach on social media. She most people she talked to were very willing to talk about their sexuality.
“You would be very surprised by how open some of these people were,” she said.
She found that people over 65 in Las Vegas reported a broad variety of sexual behaviors and attitudes. But a majority did report their doctors did not talk to them about their sexual health.
“Only one-third, actually a little bit less, 31 percent said that their doctor had talked to them about their sexual health,” Morgan said.
But a majority of the respondents said they would be willing to talk about their sexual health with a health care provider.
“That’s really interesting to see that gap in between the desire of the patient to have these conversations with their health care provider and then the health care provider just not bringing it up and not talking to them,” she said.
Morgan said there is a combination of reasons why health care provides don't address sexual health with their older patients. She said, for starters, most doctors aren't trained to have these kinds of uncomfortable conversations.
“There’s a lot of stigma and assumption and ageism that is there,” she said.
A health care provider is supposed to be the pathway to addressing health care needs, especially when a patient's body is changing through menopause or andropause, Morgan added.
“I think we need to have a lot better training for health professionals and so they understand that even as people age that they still seek intimate relationships, that they still seek pleasure and that we as a culture need to stop infantilize older people,” she said.
One of the most important safe sex messages that is not getting through to older adults is the use of condoms.
Morgan found only 7 percent of the people she talked to said they used condoms. Many had the opinion that since they couldn't get pregnant or get someone else pregnant it didn't matter.
However, a barrier method is one of the only ways to stop the spread of sexually transmitted infections.
They are also not getting tested for sexually transmitted infections, which is another way to make sure diseases aren't spread.
“A lot of older folks do not know where or how to access these services or their doctors make it uncomfortable for them even when they try to bring it up,” Morgan said.
Some people she surveyed even said doctors laughed at them when they asked about getting tested for a sexually transmitted disease.
Morgan said that is especially alarming because in Nevada over the past six years the number of STI cases among people 65 and older has gone up 200 percent.
“But to see that increase in these infections, I think is something that as public health people we really need to be looking at and finding ways to provide prevention and education to reduce some of these issues related to sexual health in older adults,” she said.
Besides reducing transmission of disease, there is a quality of life component to sexuality in older people.
Morgan found that 38 percent of the respondents said an enjoyable sex life was important to them.
“I think that that’s really an important thing to understand that this is important for people and that we to be holding space for people to be able to live their best lives,” she said.
Amanda Morgan, faculty in residence, Social and Behavioral Health Unit within the School of Community Health Sciences at UNLV
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