Why you need to talk to your grandparents about STIs

By Stigma Health

HUD App is thrilled to partner with Stigma Health, Australia’s largest online sexual health clinic group, to educate and empower dating app users to take control of their sexual health and wellbeing.

Picture your grandparents. Grey-haired, sweet smile, a little stooped over, gentle laugh, great baker, love gardening... And at high risk of sexually transmitted infections. Wait, what?

If you're planning to visit your grandies at their retirement village or rest home this weekend, maybe knock before you go in, because research shows that our elderly population is more sexually active than we think they are, and STIs are on the rise among over-65s.

(Side note: FFS, 65 is not "elderly". But research isn't great at segmenting age groups above the age of 65 and seems to lump them into one big category, for reasons we don't understand or love, but whatever, this info is still important.)

Why don't our grandparents know about STIs like we do?

First, a bit of background. Think about *your* experience of sex ed in school. Not great, right? In your grandparents' day, sex ed was even less helpful and almost completely lacking in discussion of STIs. STIs used to be called "VD" - venereal disease - and were completely stigmatized to the point that they were seen as something that only affected sex workers and their clients, or gay men (remember the AIDS crisis of the 80s/90s?).

And because they weren't well-educated about STIs, they didn't go through life automatically using protection and getting tested, as a matter of course. Their sexual relationships were very often in the context of long-term marriages which ended with a partner's passing away. They entered retirement villages or rest homes where they've got lots of time on their hands, other bored people to connect with, and easy access to erectile dysfunction and libido-enhancing medications. Hence, oldies are having more sex in their twilight years. And good for them!

So what's going on in those rest homes?

Look, this is a simplification of the situation, but essentially, we should be proud of our grandparents for prioritizing their pleasure. We don't really want to know details, but what we do want is to make sure they're safe while they're having fun.

Australia's largest online sexual health group, Stigma Health, has done the research on people accessing STI testing services in the Land Down Under, and their data shows age definitely isn’t a barrier to a healthy sex life, with a number of patients pushing 80. And while the largest age group accessing testing is 20-30, under 20s are given a run for their money with the 60-70 age group very close behind.

In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis among American adults aged 65 and older have nearly doubled since 2009.

These figures are being repeated worldwide - it's a trend, particularly as our older population lives longer and with more quality of life thanks to medical science.

So how do we have this awkward conversation?

Honestly, there is no easy way to do this, especially as sex isn't generally a topic we discuss with our grandparents, ever. And there's still a heavy stigma surrounding STIs, particularly among the older generation who may still have some lingering idea that STIs don't affect them.

A starting point if your grandparent is in a rest home or aged care facility might be to just generally chat with the staff about whether STI testing is offered regularly to residents. If STI testing is easily accessed via their retirement community, then that might make a chat with them easier.

Come from a place of wanting them to live a long time and be as healthy as possible, and give them the stats – STIs are on the rise among older people, and protection and testing are important, particularly if they have multiple partners.

Online testing options like Stigma Health in Australia allows your grandie to get a pathology referral online, take it to get tested at a pathology collection center, and then get results sent straight to their mobile phone – avoiding any awkward face-to-face convos with the GP.

Above all, be respectful – maybe say something like: "Grandpa, I love you and I just want to make sure you're being safe." Be matter-of-fact and skip the patronizing tone. They've been around a lot longer than we have and they know a lot more about life, so try to meet them in a place of mutual understanding.

What about protection?

Just take a box of condoms along with the flowers and nice bottle of wine you're gifting your grandma when you visit! Okay, that might not come across very well, but protection from STIs is also an important part of preventing their spread among any age group. Remind your grandparents about the joys of online shopping – they can get condoms and dental dams delivered discreetly to their door and nobody will be any the wiser.

It’s important to look after your sexual health and wellbeing throughout every stage of life, and you just might become the new favorite grandchild for making sure your grandparents are keeping themselves safe while having fun.

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