Safe Sex at Any Age

If you are an older adult contemplating a new sexual relationship, you may be surprised to learn you are still very much at risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

Maybe you no longer worry about preventing pregnancy, but as long as you are sexually active, you will always need to be concerned about your sexual health. That means making sure both you and your partner are practicing safe sex.

According to the National Institute on Aging, almost one-fourth of people known to be living with HIV/AIDS in the United States are 50 or older and many more older men and women may be infected but not know it. It can take more than 10 years after infection for symptoms to show up, and older people may confuse some of those symptoms with other common signs of aging.

At the same time, health care professionals may not discuss sex with older patients the same way they do with younger people and may not do routine testing.

Tips to Stay Safe:

  • Everyone who is sexually active should know their own and their partner's HIV status, and the only way to know for sure is to be tested. The best place to get tested is at your doctor's office or at a state or city clinic, many of which provide free services. If you prefer to self-test, the only FDA-approved home test is the Home Access Express HIV-1 Test System. When you are sexually active, make sure your partner has been tested.

  • Adults over the age of 40 report the lowest rate of condom use, according to the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior released in 2010. Don't be one of them! Use male or female condoms whenever you have vaginal, anal or oral sex. Both types of condoms protect against sexually transmitted diseases and infections, according to U.S. Department of Human Services, but male latex condoms work best.

  • Use only water-based lubricants with condoms; oil-based lubricants, such as petroleum jelly, can damage condoms and reduce their effectiveness.

  • Never share any needles or other equipment used inject drugs.


A doctor, nurse or counselor who specializes in sexuality and reproductive health issues can address any questions or concerns you have about your sexual health and how to stay safe. In addition, you can find information, illustrations and videos online that describe how to use both male and female condoms. (See How to Use a Condom)



Indiana University: National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior.

Letvak, S. and Schoder, D. "Sexually Transmitted Diseases in the Elderly: What You Need to Know: The Young Aren't the Only Ones at Risk fo STDs." Geriatric Nursing, 17:4), 156-160. 1996 Web. Nov 2012

National Institute on Aging: HIV, AIDS, and Older People. 2009. Web. Nov 2012

Northeastern University/The Women's Project: How to Use a Condom 

U.S. Department of Human Services Office on Women's Health: Healthy Aging: Protecting Yourself. Web. November 2012