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Zorba Paster: STDs rising fastest among those 50 and over

I have a question for you. No need to put on your thinking cap to answer it, just use your gut.

Ready, set, go: In the last 10 years, what group of Americans have seen STDs – sexually transmitted diseases – triple?

Think you’ve got your answer? The right answer is baby boomers and folks over 65. This group has had the greatest increase in STDs. I bet you guessed wrong.

Look at the numbers. In 2000, there were 5,500 cases of chlamydia, the most common STD. That number tripled to 16,000 last year. Gonorrhea and syphilis, same thing – tripled. And more than 15 percent of all new HIV infections were from people over 50.

STDs are booming in boomers.

And guess what medical breakthrough played a part in this epidemic. It wasn’t the birth-control pill. I bet you guessed this one right: Viagra!

Viagra is not the whole story. We’re living longer. We’re healthier. It’s socially acceptable to have a new relationship when you’re older, and that relationship can include sex.

The fastest-growing demographic at online dating sites, such as eHarmony, is the “mature” adult. According to the New York Times, people 55 and older are visiting dating sites more than any other group – up 40 percent in the last three years. The No. 2 group is those 45 to 54.

I have many older patients who have divorced or lost a spouse and want to continue a vibrant lifestyle, which can include sex and intimacy. Love has no age barrier, and when you’re older you have less time to waste.

Which brings me to the prejudice of “ageism.” Why is an older woman who dates a younger man not thought of as alluring? Why is an older man who dates a younger woman called “a dirty old man?”

Where did this come from? Who made up these rules? Shouldn’t older adults who want to enjoy sex be allowed to enjoy it without these snotty comments?

But boomers and seniors, if you’re going to have sex, be responsible. I know you don’t have to worry about an unwanted pregnancy, but you do have to worry about an unwanted infection. It appears there are lots of “mature” adults who are just as dumb about STDs as teens. They have the same “it-can’t-happen-to-me” mentality. A 60-year-old boomer should be just as responsible as their 18-year-old grandchild.

My spin: Sex is a natural part of life. It’s not a dirty word. There is no age limit on sex or its sister, intimacy.

It may be hard to believe, but many older adults don’t know about protection because they didn’t have sex education when they were in school, and talking about sex is taboo for too many. Perhaps we need to have sex ed courses in senior centers. Considering these numbers, it’s not a bad idea.

Final thought: Be responsible. Know your partner. Use protection. Wear your condom. Stay well!

Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician, university professor, author and broadcast journalist. He also hosts a popular radio call-in program at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7.