Background/introduction While sexual activity, including partner change, is known to continue throughout the life course, there is a paucity of qualitative evidence on how adults over 45 years engage with risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), limiting the scope for effective health promotion among this age group.
Aims/objectives The research aimed to explore older adults’ sexual risk-taking behaviour within the context of sexuality in later life.
Methods A qualitative in-depth study involving 31 interviews with middle aged heterosexual men and women aged 45 to 65, recruited from sexual health clinic and community settings.
Results Vulnerability to STI risk emerged around key life course transitions, including following divorce, separation and bereavement. Some spoke enthusiastically of embracing sexual freedom and pleasure within a perceived changed culture, resulting in frequent partner change; however, many found themselves ‘re-engaging’ with their sexual careers within an unfamiliar gendered landscape. Lacking an (ageing) body confidence led to the prioritisation of intimacy over STI risk; condoms were viewed as being for birth control and therefore mostly unnecessary, or linked with casual sex and lack of trust. STIs were commonly considered to be a young person’s concern.
Discussion/conclusions Information provision alone will not be enough to counter the complexities of navigating the dramatically different sexual landscape these older adults find themselves within compared to their youth, particularly those who have emerged from long-term relationships. A separately focussed approach to STI prevention taking account of life course experience, ageing and cultural change is advocated.
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