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Let’s Talk About Sex

By Lauren Del Sarto
Today, STDs are rapidly spreading through senior populations.

Yes, the topic makes many uncomfortable, but with rates of sexually transmitted disease at an all-time high, it can no longer remain under the covers. So let’s take a look at the facts.

According to the CDC 2017 Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report, more than two million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were reported in the US in 2016, the highest number ever. It’s a clear warning of a growing threat, says Jonathan Mermin, MD, MPH, director of the CDC National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. “STDs are a persistent enemy, growing in number, and outpacing our ability to respond.”

Before you blame it on kids today, you may be surprised to learn that STDs are spreading “like wildfire” through senior populations as well. Since 2007, incidence of syphilis among seniors is up 52 percent, with chlamydia up 32 percent.

In his article Baby Boomers Gone Wild! in Psychology Today, Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-S, states the good news: it appears many seniors citizens are sexually active; however, a large number are choosing to “not suit up before dancing the horizontal mambo.”

In his whimsical piece, Weiss, a subject expert for CNN, Oprah Winfrey, and others, considers many factors including extended vitality, hormone supplementation, the little blue pill, lack of education in youth, and even retirement communities: “…it looks as if the hard-partying denizens of Animal House have simply moved their shenanigans into the Shady Palms Retirement Villa.”

So, what is being done? Getting honorable adults to face these facts and consider themselves among their peers is no easy task adding fuel to the fire. Medicare now offers free STD screenings and low cost treatment for seniors, but only 5% of those who are eligible have chosen to utilize it, says Weiss, and testing for STDs isn’t always a top priority for clinicians. So, education – for patients and doctors – is the first defense.

Eisenhower Health is doing just that with their new Sexual Health Clinic located at the Eisenhower Health Center at Rimrock in Palm Springs. Their goal is to help navigate the complex issue of sexual health in a supportive, non-judgmental environment that they say is different from STD clinics. “We aren’t here just to address their obvious concerns,” says Jon Colbert, MSN, FNP-DC, who oversees the clinic. “We are here to partner with them and by doing so assess how they may be at risk for other conditions, such as Hep C or HPV, and addressing those risks in such a way that they feel not only supported, but have all the information they need to make sound choices about their sexual lives.”

The Sexual Health Clinic is oriented for those who have sex without a condom, have multiple sex partners, have symptoms that appear to be an STD, have been informed from a partner that they may have been exposed to an STD and/or are sexually active but do not know their status.

“We will talk with our patients freely about their sexual activities – as their primary care physician often does not address these issues with them, instead focusing on issues like blood pressure and diabetes. We do this through a confidential risk assessment tool that will be utilized by each patient at each visit,” says Colbert.

Services are by appointment or walk-in and include screening and treatment for gonorrhea/chlamydia, general herpes, genital warts and syphilis as well as Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). The opportunity for walk-in services will remove the barrier of having to make an appointment when their need is happening today. Medicare and certain commercial insurances are accepted.

Eisenhower Health says the goal of the clinic ultimately is to effectively add value to the national goal of eliminating HIV transmission within the next few years as each client will be evaluated for their ability to contract HIV through an STD, and those HIV patients who may be at risk for other medical concerns, such as anal cancer via an HPV infection. Another goal is to ensure that everyone in the Coachella Valley understands their risks of contracting an STD – including HIV- so that they can make educated decisions about their sexual health.

“We do this in the context of a confidential, non-judgmental setting – so, regardless of who you are sexually active with – we are here for you,” adds Colbert, “and we will assess your risk factors together with you.”

For more information on seniors and STDs, please see references below. The Eisenhower Health Sexual Health Clinic is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The last walk-in appointment is at 4:30 p.m. For more information, call (760) 834.7950.

Sources: 1) https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p0926-std-prevention.html; 2) https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/love-and-sex-in-the-digital-age/201403/baby-boomers-gone-wild-seniors-and-stds

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