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Safe Sex for Women over 40

    • New to the dating scene – at 50?

      We feel your pain. And excitement and curiosity! First things first, though, starting with the latest about safe sex and STD prevention in women over 40.

    • STDs on the Rise?

    • A while back, More magazine ran a frightening article about midlife women and HIV with claims that one in three women newly diagnosed with HIV are 40 and over. And while much discussion remains anecdotal, a 2008 British study published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, found that STD rates have doubled among people 45 and over in the past decade. Such statistics, may in part be due to physical changes women face in the years leading up to menopause.

      According to Modesto OBGyn David Eibling, M.D., midlife physical changes make women especially vulnerable to infections. “During menopause, the vagina thins, loses elasticity and lubrication,” he says. “As each of those protective layers goes away, women face a greater chance of tearing and exposure to disease.”

      To further complicate matters, condoms, which offer the best protection against disease, can be uncomfortable for women with vaginal changes. (See Great Sex at Midlife for tips on addressing discomfort.)

      “If you have vaginal dryness and you don’t know this person, you’ve got to use a condom and plenty of lubricant,” says Sacramento Internist Maxine Barish-Wreden, M.D., a Sutter Medical Group doctor specializing in complementary and integrative medicine.

      Despite concerns, Barish-Wreden says most of the middle-aged women she sees are especially savvy when it comes to taking care of themselves.

      “By the time we reach middle-age, we’re not as impulsive or driven by our hormones as we might have been when we were younger,” says Barish-Wreden.

      In addition, women over 40 are smart about pre-screening themselves and new partners for STDs, says Barish-Wreden. “If anything, they are more cautious, at least prior to their first interaction.”

    • Preventing STDs as we age

    • New partners shouldn’t be shy in requesting testing and providing proof of results. For midlife women entering a new, long-term relationship, advanced STD screening gives couples a chance to start fresh and enjoy their new phase of life.

      Anyone who is sexually active, but especially those not in monogamous relationships, should re-familiarize themselves with the symptoms of STDs, especially since some symptoms can be mistaken for normal menopausal changes. Some common signs of STDs include:

      • Changes in vaginal discharge or odor
      • Pelvic cramping or pain without a known cause
      • Changes on the skin of the genitals such as blisters and nodular growths
      • Feelings of pain or swelling in the groin
      • Sores on the mouth, nose, eyes, throat or anus
      • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
      Women should also be on the lookout for chronic yeast infections and other important pelvic symptoms, which can be early warning signs of more serious conditions like HIV and certain gynecological cancers. Talk to a doctor if you’re experiencing any of the following for more than a month:
      • Bloating
      • Pelvic or abdominal pain
      • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
      • Unexplained urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)

    • Capitalizing On Our Strengths

    • Despite concerns, Barish-Wreden say most of the middle-aged women they see are especially savvy when it comes to taking care of themselves.

      “By the time we reach middle-age, we’re not as impulsive or driven by our hormones as we might have been when we were younger,” says Barish-Wreden.

      In addition, women over 40 are smart about pre-screening themselves and new partners for STDs, says Barish-Wreden. “If anything, they are more cautious, at least prior to their first interaction.”

      New partners shouldn’t be shy in requesting testing and providing proof of results. For midlife women entering a new, long-term relationship, advanced STD screening gives couples a chance to start fresh and enjoy their new phase of life.

    • Sex Ed Was a Long Time Ago

    • Anyone who is sexually active, but especially those not in monogamous relationships, should re-familiarize themselves with the symptoms of STDs, especially since some symptoms can be mistaken for normal menopausal changes. Some common signs of STDs include:

      • Changes in vaginal discharge or odor
      • Pelvic cramping or pain without a known cause
      • Changes on the skin of the genitals such as blisters and nodular growths
      • Feelings of pain or swelling in the groin
      • Sores on the mouth, nose, eyes, throat or anus
      • Abnormal vaginal bleeding

      Women should also be on the lookout for chronic yeast infections and other important pelvic symptoms, which can be early warning signs of more serious conditions like HIV and certain gynecological cancers. Talk to a doctor if you’re experiencing any of the following for more than a month:
      • Bloating
      • Pelvic or abdominal pain
      • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
      • Unexplained urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)

    Ask our experts your sexual health question(s).