Those naughty boomers

Some time back, researchers writing in The New England Journal of Medicine decided to ask older Americans about their sex life and discovered something interesting: very often, they have one.

When Robin G. Sawyer, an associate professor in the University of Maryland School of Public Health, shares this information with his students, some seem horrified, reports today’s New York Timesimages

“Maybe they are troubled by the thought of “wrinklies,” as a character in the Christopher Buckley novel “Boomsday” calls them, being intimate. But maybe what gets them is just how often many baby boomers boom — at least two or three times a month, the study found. “That’s better than some of my undergraduates,” Dr. Sawyer said.

“There can, however, be a cost. A vigorous sex life for boomers carries the same risk as it does for younger people: sexually transmitted diseases. And writing last year in the medical journal Student BMJ, researchers point to a rise in the number of adults over 50 seeking treatment for such infections, including the virus that causes AIDS. In 2011, the most recent numbers available, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified more than 12,000 cases of gonorrhea, about 2,600 cases of syphilis and more than 22,000 cases of chlamydia in people ages 45 to 64.

“To some extent, the explanation for the increase in older people with S.T.D.s is the same as the explanation for what one presumes is an increase in older people owning goldfish: there are more of them around to become infected or, as the case may be, to visit a pet store. And officials at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stress that the biggest public health threat is posed by infections among people ages 15 to 24, who account for half the new infections each year.

“But for baby boomers the situation may be a bit more complicated. To begin with, there are physical changes that may increase the risk of infection. As women age, the Student BMJ researchers noted,the thinning of the lining of the vagina and a loss of lubrication make tiny abrasions more likely, creating entry points for viruses. Change in vaginal pH after menopause may also increase risk, they said.

“Still, while those changes may explain why infection is more likely if a woman is exposed, the researchers wrote, “they do not explain why older adults are increasingly exposing themselves to risk.”


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