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Sexually transmitted infections are surging, especially in older adults

Dennis van Zuijlekom

Clinicians in Southwest Florida are seeing this trend and trying to educate patients who are in relationships that may not be monogamous.

“It’s really hard to talk about this. I know, because we’ve never learned to do that. But it’s never too late to learn.”

That's Joan Price, author of "Naked At Our Age," and she knows what she's talking about. She is a sex educator who specializes in older adults. And she’s referring to bringing up safe sex practices for older people.

It’s a topic that is getting attention, because sexually transmitted infections have surged in recent years. According to CDC data,rates of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia more than doubled in people 55 and older between 2012 and 2022, which are the latest available numbers.

Clinicians in Southwest Florida are seeing this trend and trying to educate patients who are in relationships that may not be monogamous.

“They do talk about it with patients and the importance of screening," says Dr. Mary Beth Saunders, system medical director for Infection Prevention and Epidemiology at Lee Health. "It’s always an interesting time of the year when they have the Fantasy Festdown in the Keys. And we have a lot of folks who go down there and come back. And that gives us a good opportunity to talk about safety and sexually transmitted infections and prevention."

Many of the infections may not have symptoms, Saunders noted, so it is important to ask your doctor to be screened regularly.

As for talking to a partner, here's what Price suggests for how to bring up what could be a delicate subject:

  • I always use condoms with a new partner, to protect us both. 
  • I’ll buy the condoms. Do you prefer a special kind? 
  • Do you have condoms, or should we make a run to the store?”

Saunders agrees that having condoms on hand is a good idea for someone with a new partner, or with multiple partners.

“Condom use isn’t just for an 18-year-old,” she said. “It can be for someone who maybe is on the other end of the spectrum of age for protection.”

Copyright 2024 WGCU

Cary Barbor is the local host of All Things Considered and a reporter for WGCU. She was a producer for Martha Stewart Radio on Sirius XM, where she hosted a live interview show with authors of new books called Books and Authors. She was a producer for The Leonard Lopate Show, a live, daily show that covered arts, culture, politics, and food on New York City’s public radio station WNYC. She also worked as a producer on Studio 360, a weekly culture magazine; and The Sunday Long Read, a show that features in-depth conversations with journalists and other writers. She has filed stories for The Pulse and Here & Now. In addition to radio, she has a career writing for magazines, including Salon, Teen Vogue, New York, Health, and More. She has published short stories and personal essays and is always working on a novel. She was a Knight Journalism Fellow, where she studied health reporting at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and followed epidemiologists around Kenya and Alaska. She has a B.A. in English from Lafayette College and an M.A. in Literature from the University of Massachusetts.