Safe sex campaign for seniors

Australia’s first-ever safe sex awareness campaign, specifically for older people, has just been launched by Family Planning NSW, following a marked increase in STIs in older age groups.

By Yasmin Noone

Australia’s first-ever safe sex awareness campaign, specifically for older Australians, has been launched by Family Planning NSW with the help of the online dating site, RSVP, in a bid to tackle the rising rates of Sexually Transmitted Illnesses (STIs) in the nation’s older age groups.

The Little Black Dress Campaign aims to educate Australians about the risks of having sex without using a condom, equip them with the information they need to practice safe sex and encourage STI testing when unprotected sex does happen.

Launched earlier this week in Sydney, the campaign uses a video messaging, promotion through the RSVP 50 and Fabulous group and awareness raising activities to reach women aged over-40 who are newly single, recently widowed, in friends-with-benefits arrangements, part of a new couple and in a meaningful relationship.

Boasting the slogan, “Safe sex is an easier conversation to have with your clothes on”, the campaign emphasises the importance of communication between sexual partners; people aged 40-plus and their general practitioner or medical health professional; and between aged care sector staff and older clients.

“Our message is to be upfront when talking about safe sex with a new partner,” said medical director at Family Planning NSW, Dr Deborah Bateson.

“We want people to have an honest and frank discussion with their partner about using a condom, and have that discussion early, before being swept up in the heat of the moment.”

Rising STI rates in older Australians

The latest figures from the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System backs up the need for the campaign, providing evidence that STI rates for diseases like chlamydia and gonorrhoea are continuing to rise among older Australians.

According to recently accessed data, the number of new chlamydia cases in people aged 40 and above has doubled since 2005. The figures also multiplied from 2000 and 2012 for females aged 60-64.

In 2000, there were 45 women aged 50-54 recorded as having clyamdia. This rose to 84 in 2005 and 165 in 2012.

The number of cases in the 40-44 female age group also shot up from 210 in 2000 to 594 in 2012. And, while in 2005 there were no recorded cases of clymadia in the female 85-plus age group, in 2012 there were eight cases.

Dr Bateson said that even she has noticed an increase in STIs in the older population through her day-to-day work as a sexual health and medical practitioner.

“It all started with us noticing an increase in our clinical setting where women, aged 50, 60, 70, were asking us about STIs,” Dr Bateson said.

“We also know that notification data is increasing among older Australians as well as among younger Australians.”

“We are just picking up more and more STIs [in the older age groups]. Maybe that’s because we are testing more of course… but we are also being more aware.”

Dr Bateson said this increase may also be due to greater numbers of Australians meeting new sexual partners later in life. The RSVP Date of the Nation Report 2012 confirms this point.

Having surveyed 3,300 Australians earlier this year, RSVP found that although two-to-four dates is the average number of meetings before getting in to bed, Australian singles aged over 51 are the most likely age group to have sex on the first date.

Single people aged over 51 years are more likely to have had an unprotected one night stand at some stage in their life, when compared to singles from Gen X and Gen Y.

“People in their 60s are not part of the ‘condom generation’ and would have been experimenting with sexual relationships in the 1970s, many years before HIV and the Grim Reaper campaign of the late 80s hit the public’s consciousness,” Dr Bateson said.

“Older people may not feel comfortable discussing condoms and STI issues with their partner or with their GP and they certainly don’t want to talk about it with their children.

“People may feel somewhat ‘invincible’ at this later stage of life or, in the case of women who’ve gone through menopause, they don’t have the added incentive of using condoms to prevent an unintended pregnancy.”

STIs do not only cause infertility, as some people mistakenly believe. They can lead to other infections, chronic pain and discomfort, and are highly contagious.

STI awareness and aged care

Dr Bateson said she highly recommends that aged care providers offer training for staff in STI-based issues and, most importantly, in communicating with residents and older clients about sexual health concerns.

“My understanding is that times have changed and we do need to make sure that staff have a knowledge and awareness of [sexual health] and rights-based issues.”

Aged care staff need to “be respectful of older people and understand that they are still sexual beings and their needs have to be taken into account.”

She also advises older people and the younger of the older age groups to get into the practice of safe sex.

“It’s all about communication and not feeling that you are being judged.

“It’s all very well to say you wont feel embarrassed when going to your GP [with a sexual health concern], but we do want people to feel comfortable about seeing their GP.

“It might be useful for people to also visit the Family Planning NSW website. They can also call our helpline which is a confidential service.”

Despite media hype and community-wide talk about younger people and sexuality, Dr Bateson said older people should not think the are the only ones having safe sex or needing to have a ‘conversation’ with a GP about an STI.

“We know there are many people thinking about the same things, having the same concerns and going to see doctors about these issues as well.

“We, as doctors and nurses we are very used to seeing people coming through [our service] wanting to discuss these issues.

“You are not alone.”

RSVP jumps on board

The campaign was created with the help of RSVP and a number of its members who participated in a survey about sexual activities and STI awareness and in the campaign videos.

General manager of RSVP, Glenis Carroll, said the company got involved because it understands there is a need for more safe sex education and awareness, particularly among older Australians.

“As the country’s largest online dating site, we consider education to be an important part of our role in the industry and we are pleased to support Family Planning NSW’s campaign and share the message with our members.”

A safe sex pack, containing a condom, lube and instructions on how to use condoms are packaged in discreet business card sized wallet, will be distributed to Family Planning NSW’s partner organisations as well as at future RSVP events.

The complete series of campaign videos and articles will be released in coming months on the Family Planning NSW website, www.fpnsw.org.au
 

Tags: 50-and-fabulous, aids, chlamydia, condom, dating, family-planning, gonorrhoea, little-black-dress, rsvp, sex, sexual-health, sexually-transmitted-infections, std, sti,

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