The number of people in their 60s and 70s being diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) has reached a record high in the UK, indicating an unprecedented level in cases of syphilis, chlamydia and other diseases.
Figures from Public Health England showed that more individuals aged 65 and over are being treated for one of the common five STIs – syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, warts and herpes – with the number going up from 1,411 in 2016 to 1,608 in 2017.
This is in line with the trend in Australia, where reported chlamydia rates have increased significantly between 1999 and 2011 from 74 to 363 infections per 100,000 people. Syphilis rates have also more than doubled between 2004 and 2017, from 10 to 26 reported infections per 100,000 people.
"While the majority of the patients we see in clinic are younger, it's not uncommon to see people in their 60s or 70s," Dr Mark Lawton, consultant in Sexual Health & HIV and Clinical Lead at the Liverpool Centre for Sexual Health, told Express.
"In fact, the oldest patient I've seen was 91 and he was still enjoying a healthy sex life."
The Summer of Love in the late 1960s could be to blame for the rising STIs among the this demographic, according to Dr Janet Pregler, director of the Iris Cantor – UCLA Women's Health Center.
She said for the people who came of age during that period, antibiotics and birth control pills had just been made available, reducing chances of death from sexually transmitted diseases and encouraging more sexual activity.
"Suddenly, we had this period of time where there really weren't sexually transmitted illnesses that could kill you," Pregler told US News.
"Certainly, people got herpes and that could be distressing, but in terms of sexually transmitted illness being a life-or-death matter, there was that period of time where it really wasn't looked at that way."
This means that this generation may not be as concerned or aware about "the possibility of life-threatening infections", said Dr Lisa Granville, professor of geriatrics at the Florida State University College of Medicine.
"They often have been off-the-market, so to speak, and not dating for many years as they've been involved with monogamous relationships," Granville told US News.
"But as they age and those relationships end, commonly through death though we know divorce is becoming more prevalent, they find themselves dating and they really don't have the tools and knowledge and skills to be back in the dating market."
To reduce the risk of contracting STIs, experts recommend practicing safe sex, using condoms consistently and having fewer sexual partners.
Health Direct also advises sexually active people to have regular check-ups with doctors or at a sexual health clinic.