The FINANCIAL — Changes in the sexual behaviour of over-45s is leading to an increase in the number of STIs, according to a scientific study, according to University of Chichester.
New data from a three-year investigation in the UK and Europe revealed that many middle to older-aged people are unaware of the dangers of unprotected sex. Findings also showed that healthcare services are not always tailored for older adults, leading to some feeling embarrassed to visit clinics.
120 participants were interviewed for the study, adding to survey data from 777 participants, as part of an EU Interreg 2Seas area funded project known as SHIFT (Sexual Health in over Forty Fives), to improve engagement of older people in sexual health services.
University of Chichester psychologist Dr Ian Tyndall, who is part of the project, said major changes in sexual behaviour in recent decades has seen increasing numbers of sexually active older-people.
He added: “Given improvements in life expectancy, sexual healthcare needs to improve its provision for older adults and vulnerable groups to provide a more utilised, knowledgeable, compassionate, and effective service.”
Sexual healthcare professionals lack knowledge to help older adults
The SHIFT study, which started in 2019, aims to develop a training model for healthcare professionals to improve the sexual health and wellbeing of older people in Europe.
Responses from the 120 participants highlighted that professionals, including nurses and doctors, lacked sufficient sexual health knowledge specific to older adults, while the services themselves were too focused on helping young people.
One interviewee said: “Clinics aren’t geared up to meet the needs of an older person. There is no information out there talking about sexual issues and sexual health and saying what is on offer for older people.”
Another responder said: “A woman of 73 asked for condoms at a Family Planning Clinic and was told she didn’t need them as she wouldn’t get pregnant, now I ask you did this person think she was so stupid that she didn’t know she wouldn’t get pregnant.” “You go into the consulting room and it’s a bit like ‘hm, why are you needing to get this done’ and the older you get they add on ‘at your age’.”
The report also revealed that a significant number of participants were unaware of the risks of STIs. “It’s funny though because, if I hadn’t gone to the clinic it wouldn’t have occurred to me to use a condom,” said one responder. “When we were youngsters, condoms were just to stop pregnancy not to stop infections or if they were to stop infections we weren’t told about it.”
Key areas study hopes to address gaps in healthcare
The study’s initial report, published last year, was based on the interviews of people across the south coast of England and northern regions of Belgium and the Netherlands. It found four areas which could address the gaps in current healthcare provision:
Awareness: A number of participants were unaware of the risks of STIs, while 46 per cent did not know the location of their nearest healthcare centre.
Knowledge: Participants said health professionals, including doctors and nurses, lacked sufficient sexual health knowledge – and consequently only half had a recent STI test.
Stigma: Shame was identified as the biggest barrier to accessing sexual healthcare services, which is discouraging people from attending check-ups.
Access: Limited information around the location of sexual health centres and restricted opening times were a consistent problem for many participants.
According to according to University of Chichester, scientists intend to publish the findings of the full report in 2022, with the hope it will help as many as 150,000 people across Europe.