What Older Women Should Know About Having Safe Sex
"It's not wrong to want to have sex, and it's not wrong to not want to have sex."
How Sexually Active Older Women Can Stay Safe
There are two common misconceptions surrounding older women and sex: Older women don't have sex and they don't want to have sex.
For all you older women reading this, we know you're sexually active, and so does Dr. Janet Pregler. As the director of the Iris Cantor-UCLA Women's Health center and a professor of clinical medicine in the division of general internal medicine and health services research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Dr. Pregler has done a fair amount of research dealing with the sexual activity of women as they age.
The problem is that, as with much of the world, most physicians don't believe their patients are still sexually active later in life, thus making it difficult for women to discuss their sexual health concerns with their doctors.
"Sex is important to women throughout their lives. It's not wrong to want to have sex and it's not wrong to not want to have sex," Dr. Pregler states. "But many doctors don't think older women are sexually active."
While it may be frightening to discuss your concerns with your primary care physician, Dr. Pregler urges you do just that.
"There are increasing rates of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, among older women," she notes. "Women currently in their 60s and 70s came of age after the birth control pill was invented, when antibiotics were available to treat serious sexually transmitted infections like syphilis, and before AIDS was recognized. They spent their early sex lives at a time when many people thought sex was without risk. It’s really important for women of all ages to talk to their partners, assess risk, plan to get tested for sexually transmitted infections, and use condoms."
With the sheer volume of women who have HIV, Dr. Pregler mentions there's an important preventative drug for the virus many don't know about.
"Women at risk for HIV should strongly consider taking PrEP (preexposure prophylaxis), an anti-HIV drug women take daily to prevent HIV, in addition to using condoms," she says. "It is vastly underused by women. One third of people in the U.S. living with HIV are women, of those, over 80% got it through sex with a male partner."
At your next doctor's visit, be sure to ask if you should be tested for STDs and STIs. And if you aren't taking PrEP, be sure to question your physician about that, too.
It's important to have these conversations, even though they can be terrifying, to end the stigma surrounding older women's sexual health and well-being. Sex is meant to be enjoyed.