Are older lovers ignoring the rules of safe sex?

December 12, 2008

Are older lovers ignoring the rules of safe sex?

November 14, 2008

People in their 30s and 40s living in the United Kingdom are half as likely as teenagers to use a condom when having sex with a new partner, according to a study published recently in the International Journal of Epidemiology, London’s Daily Telegraph reports.

The study found that nearly 70 percent of those between ages 16 and 19 used a condom with a new partner, compared with 38 percent of men and 29 percent of women between ages 35 and 44.

The new information follows an announcement from the United Kingdom’s Health Protection Agency that rates of sexually transmitted infections such as HIV are on the rise in the country, with a six-percent increase in the total number of new STIs diagnosed in 2007 compared with 2006.

The study, led by Catherine Mercer of the Centre for Sexual Health and HIV Research at University College London, looked at the heterosexual relationships of 11 161 people.

The data showed that although the overall number of heterosexual people using condoms during a first sexual encounter stood at 55 percent, that figure declines with age.

Mercer said that because interventions promoting consistent condom use with new partners traditionally are targeted at younger people, such efforts are “urgently required” for those in their 30s and older.

She said: “I definitely think older people need to be encouraged to use condoms a lot more when they start new partnerships.”

She added: “We didn’t ask people why they didn’t use condoms, but maybe it’s complacency or denial something will happen to them.”

Mercer said that while other forms of contraception may have been used among the age group, they were unlikely to protect against STIs at the start of a relationship.

According to Mercer, a significant concern stemming from the research is the effect of the growing number of divorces on the sexual health of older people.

She said: “Although a disproportionate amount of partnerships are formed among people in their teens and 20s, the fact is that about 45 percent of marriages are now expected to end in divorce, which means that the ‘population attributable risk’ of partnership formation by those in their 30s and 40s will increase”.

Julie Bentley, chief executive of the Family Planning Association, said: “This research shows that no matter what age you are, or what type of relationship you are in, sexual health messages still apply.”

Lisa Power of the Terrence Higgins Trust said: “STIs are no respecters of age and although most media portrayals of sexual relationships involve young people, these figures show that it’s important to support people to have a healthy sex life at every age.”

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