Safer sex for over-50s

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are not just a problem for young people: they can affect anyone. Find out why it's important to practise safer sex at any age.

People of all ages need to know how to protect themselves when having sex with a new partner.

In the UK in 2009, STI diagnoses in the over-45 age group included 5,356 people with genital warts, 3,025 with genital herpes and over 1,225 with gonorrhoea. In the same year, over 12,000 HIV-positive adults over the age of 50 were receiving healthcare for living with HIV.

You can read this whole article to find out more about safer sex, or click on the links below.

Talking about using condoms
What are the symptoms of STIs?
Where can I get tested for STIs?
How do I use condoms properly? 
Contraception after the menopause
Extra lubrication with condoms
Where to get condoms
What if we want to stop using condoms?

Talking about using condoms

Condoms are the only method of contraception to protect against STIs as well as pregnancy. STIs can pass between people of any age, so using a condom protects your health as well as your partner’s. You can find out more about male and female condoms in Condom tips.

If you are not sure how to bring up the subject of using a condom, you can find some tips and suggestions in Talking to your partner about sex.

It's important to discuss safer sex with anyone you're having sex with. Infections can pass between two women and two men as well as between men and women. For more on safer sex for same-sex partners, see Lesbian sexual health and Sexual health for gay and bisexual men.

What are the symptoms of STIs?

Some people do not notice any symptoms at all. If you do notice symptoms, they can include:

  • a change in the normal discharge from the vagina
  • bleeding from the vagina after sex
  • discharge from the penis
  • sores, blisters, a rash or irritation near the vagina, penis or anus
  • a burning feeling when passing urine

If you have any of these symptoms, or if you don’t have symptoms but have had unprotected sex, see your GP or visit a sexual health or GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinic for a check-up. Find sexual health services near you.

STIs, including herpes and gonorrhoea, can also be passed on through oral sex. Find out more about what infections you can get through oral sex.

Where can I get tested for STIs?

You can get all tests and treatments at a sexual health or GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinic. GP surgeries and some pharmacies may also provide testing for some infections. If they can’t provide what you need, they will be able to give you details of the nearest service that can.

Find your nearest sexual health services.

How do I use condoms properly?

Male condoms are placed on the penis, and female condoms are placed inside the vagina. You will find instructions on the condom packet or in a leaflet inside the pack, or you can also ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. Make sure you:

  • Use a new condom each time you have sex
  • Check the use-by date on the packet.
  • Use condoms that have the European EC mark, a recognised safety standard.
  • Don't use novelty condoms as they may not be safe.

Always put the condom in place before there is any genital contact between you and your partner.

Find out more about using condoms correctly. You can also call FPA on 0845 122 8690 or the sexual health helpline on 0800 567 123.

Contraception after the menopause

If you are a woman and have been through the menopause you still need to use contraception for at least 12 months after the date of your last period to protect against pregnancy. Find out about the 15 different methods of contraception.

Extra lubrication with condoms

Water-based lubricants can be used with latex condoms. Don't use oil-based lubricants, such as body lotion, petroleum jelly (Vaseline), moisturiser or lipstick, with latex condoms as these can damage the latex. You can use oil-based lubricant with polyurethane condoms.

Where to get condoms

Condoms are available free to anyone, male or female, but availability can vary in different areas. These organisations may supply free condoms:

  • community contraceptive clinics (family planning clinics)
  • NHS sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics
  • gay pubs and clubs

You can also buy condoms from:

  • pharmacies
  • supermarkets
  • petrol stations
  • vending machines in male and female toilets in some places
  • mail-order catalogues
  • online

If you buy condoms online, get them from a pharmacist or other legitimate dealer rather than from individuals, and always choose condoms that carry the European CE mark.

What if we want to stop using condoms?

If you and your partner get the all-clear from an STI check-up and neither of you is having sex with anyone else, then you know it is safe to stop using condoms. With any new partner, you should both get tested or use a condom each time you have sex.

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