Data show that older adults are being treated for a greater number of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)—especially HIV—than in the past.1 

According to recent literature and the CDC, older adults are engaging in more sexual activities despite previous beliefs that such activity declines with age.2 By 2015, the number of people aged 50 years and older living with HIV/AIDS will account for half of all individuals with the disease in the United States.

This development is partially attributable to advances in highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). Individuals with HIV/AIDS who are taking HAART medications are living longer than those in previous years. However, risky sexual behavior is another reason for this increased incidence of HIV in the older adult population. 

Health-care providers must be cognizant of this trend and use it to shape their daily clinical practice, namely by routinely assessing and screening for STDs and educating older adults about such STD-protective behaviors as using condoms.

Contributing Factors

The CDC reported that the highest prevalence rate of HIV diagnoses in 2008 was among persons aged 45 to 54 years. In 2011, the population with the highest percentage of people diagnosed with HIV was persons aged 55 years and older.2 The reason for the high prevalence of STDs in this group has not been examined fully in the literature. 

However, a great deal of research data show that older adults are engaging in more sexual activity than previously thought.3 In fact, many older adults are continuing sexual activity throughout their lifespan. 

In a study of 3,005 older adults in the United States, current sexual activity was reported for 73% of those aged 57 to 64 years, 53% of those aged 65 to 74 years, and 26% of those aged 75 to 84 years.4 In addition, the population of individuals older than age 50 years who are single due to divorce or the death of a spouse or significant other is increasing.5 

These two documented trends support the perception of increased sexual activity in older adults and the need for reinforcement of safe-sex practices over the lifespan. 

This article originally appeared on Clinical Advisor