More over 60 singles, more dating, more partners, more sex, more sexual health problems - but are we talking about it?
More over 60 singles, more dating, more partners, more sex, more sexual health problems - but are we talking about it? Ridofranz

RESEARCH: The truth about sexual health and seniors

AS THE number of sexually active people over 60 increases the conversation about what that means to an active person's health remains for the most part silent.

Researcher Dr Sue Malta, from the University of Melbourne and National Ageing Research Institute, is leading a pilot project into discovering more about the issues around sexual health and ageing.

The Sexual Health and Ageing Perspectives and Education (SHAPE) project was started with the premise that seniors are unlikely to talk their GPs about sexual health and health care practitioners for most part, don't talk to their older patients about it either.

The reasons for this are two-fold Dr Malta said.

"GPs and practice nurses, anyone in health care, usually don't receive enough education in their training about ageing and sexuality so they are not aware that for many older people, especially the cohorts coming through now are sexually active.

"There are more single, older adults than there has ever been because there is an increasing number of later-in-life divorces.

"More older people are going online to find new partners and having more access to partners than previous cohorts have ever had.

"They are now being more sexually active with more varied partners than they have ever had the opportunity before.

"Coupled with a lack of barrier protection because they are not looking at contraception and they don't realise how easily sexually transmitted infections can happen, they are not having those conversations or using condoms.

"STIs in people aged 60 and over has increased rapidly over the last five years.

"It's still a small number compared to young people, but it has still gone up," Dr Malta added.

The SHAPE project will:

  • Talk to a small cohort of older Australians about whether they have discussions with their health practitioners about their sexual health, and if they don't, why not, and who they think should initiate that conversation.
  • Talk to health care practitioners to determine if they discuss it with their patients, and if they do, how do they bring up the subject. And if they don't, why not.
  • Find out from this project how it can help to ensure these conversations happen in the future.

Dr Malta said the pilot project has received only enough funding to work with a small cohort.

Her team are still looking for people to be interviewed by phone or face-to-face for the pilot project.

She hopes in the future the SHAPE project will be turned into a much larger project in which many move people can be interviewed.

Anyone interested in registering to be interviewed during the pilot project or the next stage can contact Dr Malta on 03 9035 7737 or at  

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