GCU researchers analyse sexual health for divorcees

11 May 2015

Middle-aged and older divorcees are being warned about the dangers of risky sexual behaviour as they return to the dating scene.

Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) researchers led by PhD Researcher Jennifer MacDonald, stress the importance of targeting condom use among this population to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV.

In the UK, the number of divorces in 2012 was highest among 40–44 year olds (ONS, 2014). Therefore, considerable numbers of middle-aged and older adults are re-entering the dating arena and starting new relationships.

The latest sexual health surveillance data from England showed that in 2013, the number of 45–64 year olds diagnosed with chlamydia was 3,483 among men and 1,522 among women (Public Health England (PHE), 2014). Between 2009 and 2013, diagnoses of gonorrhoea increased in this age group by 114 per cent (from 1,155 to 2,475). Furthermore, the number of HIV diagnoses in adults over 50 years doubled from 442 in 2002 to 990 in 2012.

Although, overall, younger people are still the predominant group affected by STIs, including HIV, the rapid rise of diagnoses in middle-aged and older adults is a growing concern.

Published in the Journal of Health Psychology, the GCU study aimed to identify and describe the existing evidence-base of condom use interventions for middle-aged and older adults (defined here as over 40 years), synthesise their findings and evaluate their effectiveness.

Condoms may not be used as they become irrelevant for contraceptive purposes and as middle-aged and older adults tend to have poor knowledge of sexual health issues, they may believe that STIs, including HIV, only affect their younger counterparts (Family Planning Association (FPA), 2010).

The study found that there is a dearth of condom use interventions for middle-aged and older adults. “Overall, when taking into account the limited evidence base and poor quality of studies therein, it can be concluded that there is insufficient evidence to claim that existing condom use interventions targeted at this population are effective.”

However, targeted telephone-administered interventions were the most effective in helping behaviour change. The researchers stressed “an urgent need”, particularly in the UK, to develop theory-based interventions targeting condom use among middle-aged and older adults and evaluate these in trials that are rigorously designed and reported.