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17 November 2008
Middle-aged folks neglecting safe sex
by George Atkinson

A high proportion of 30-40 year-olds are not using condoms when they have sex with a new partner, and in partnerships where there is an age difference of five or more years, condom use is particularly low, a new study of heterosexual partnerships among British men and women has found. The researchers behind the study say that in view of the rising rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), condom use needs to be promoted to this age group, and not just to young people.

"To the best of our knowledge this is the first research to take account of all heterosexual partnerships and not just people's most recent partnerships, which tend to be more established partnerships such as marriages and cohabitations. Our study ensures accurate representation of casual partnerships, which are known to be important in the transmission of STIs. People with large numbers of partners contribute disproportionately to STI transmission in populations," said researcher Catherine Mercer, from University College London.

Mercer analyzed data from interviews with more than 11,000 people where the subjects were asked about their three most recent partnerships, condom use, age differences, where they met and how soon after meeting they had sex. She found that condoms were used at last sex in 37 percent of men's and 28 percent of women's partnerships. Overall, half of all new partnerships involved condom use at first sex (55 percent), but this declined with age; for instance, 68 percent of men and 67 percent of women aged 16-19 used a condom at first sex, but only 38 percent of men and 28 percent of women aged between 35 and 44 did.

"For some people not using condoms may be due to being or trying to become pregnant, but this is a less likely explanation for partnerships described as 'not regular', and it is therefore worrying that condom use was reported at last sex in just half of such partnerships. However, of greater concern was our finding that half of new partnerships did not use condoms at first sex, even when this was a non-regular partner, and condoms were not used in one-third of cases when first sex was within 24 hours of first meeting," noted Mercer.

The researchers also found that where there was a large age difference between partners of five years or more - and regardless of whether it was the man or the woman that was older - partners were less likely to use condoms at first sex compared to partnerships that were closer in age: 44 percent versus 60 percent. "This may reflect unequal power relations, so that younger people in such partnerships may not have the necessary communication and negotiation skills to ensure safe sex with older partners," Mercer speculates.

STDs Skyrocketing In Elderly
Holidays Abroad Lead To Risky Sex And STDs
STDs Preferable To Condom Use For Many Men

Source: International Journal of Epidemiology

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