As part of our project Sex, Age & Me which we recently carried out in Australia we talked to 53 women and men* about their safer sex practices. We also asked about the importance they placed on safer sex, and what they understood safer sex to be.
We did this because we know that rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are increasing in older adults in Western countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
While participants were aware of a range of safer sex practices, they tended to describe safer sex predominantly as condom use. We found that the main barriers to safer sex were erection difficulties, reduced sexual pleasure, and embarrassment.
Another barrier was stigma in that the shame associated with having a STI made safer sex difficult to discuss with a partner due to a fear of being judged and rejected. Some female participants had received a hostile response from male partners after asking them to use condoms.
The absence of a safer sex culture for older adults also formed a barrier to safer sex. Many participants had not received comprehensive sex and relationship education and so lacked knowledge of STIs and safer sex practices.
Safer sex was also influenced by whether or not older adults were in a relationship. So if a participant was in a long-term monogamous relationship, then safer sex was not considered to be an issue.
Safer sex practices were associated with new sexual partners, and casual sexual relationships. However, the idea that you could tell who was a potentially risky sexual partner based on their character, and their number of past sexual partners, was implied by some participants.
The key message is that while older adults tended to understand the reasons for safer sex practices, they did not always engage in safer sex with a new partner.
A Broadsheet of all the project findings to date can be accessed here.
*47 heterosexual, 6 LGB