Age group may impact your risk. Protect yourself.
Cases of sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis have reached record levels in the United States, according to the latest report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which estimates that nearly 20 million new STD infections occur each year. Regardless of age or sexual activity, men should have discussions with their doctors about how to protect themselves.
Condoms are the most common line of defense. “Condoms are really helpful with classic bacterial diseases and modestly helpful with viral diseases, like herpes and HPV,” said Douglas Milam, MD, associate professor of urologic surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
He stressed the importance of communicating with potential partners by asking if they’ve had or been exposed to an STD. “I think one of the first things to understand is what risk group you are really in,” Milam added. He often categorizes risk according to a man’s age.
Adolescents and young men
People ages 15 to 24 account for half of all new STD infections that occur each year in the United States, but that population of young adults makes up only a quarter of the sexually active population, according to the CDC.
“The first thing that is critically important is that all young people get the HPV vaccine,” Milam said, referring to the vaccine for the human papillomavirus. “If this were a vaccine that didn’t have anything to do with a sexually transmitted virus, I am convinced it would be lauded as one of the 10 greatest public health improvements made in the last 20 years.” The vaccine can lower cancer risks of several different organs by as much as 70 percent in both genders.
The HPV vaccine gets pushback from parents who believe their children will practice abstinence, and Milam addressed that by saying, “We know the statistics of waiting until marriage aren’t very supportive. It’s almost dreaming.”
Plus, he adds, if someone does abstain, he or she needs to marry a partner who has also abstained from oral, anal and other genital contact, as well. The HPV vaccine will not protect against all STDs, so young adults need to take further precautions with condoms and get tested regularly.
“The middle-aged crowd has a much lower rate of STDs,” Milam said, “and probably a lot of it has to do with the idea that people are more sophisticated about sex as they get older.” He’s referring to condom use. Again, men should talk to their doctors about protection and testing.
“Interestingly a fast-growing STD risk group is the elderly,” Milam said. He attributes this to the prevalence of people getting back on the dating scene in their 60s, 70s or 80s after a divorce or the death of their spouse. “They typically aren’t using condoms and aren’t very familiar with STDs.”
Seniors who are becoming sexually active after a long-term monogamous relationship should talk to their doctors about protection.