Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among older people are on the rise, and doctors know exactly who to blame for this unfortunate development: E.L. James. That name may not sound familiar to you, but her most famous work will no doubt ring a bell.
50 Shades of Grey is an erotic romance novel that has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. Along with bringing the topic of sex to the forefront of public consciousness, it has also inspired people of all ages — literally, of all ages — to explore their own sexual prowess in ways that they were once too embarrassed to even think about.
Speaking to The Independent UK recently, Dr. Charlotte Jones, the chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, claimed that she has noticed people ages 45+ become “more explorative” in the bedroom after being exposed to the BDSM-heavy novel.
“When it comes to forgetting about safe sex we always think of the vulnerability of young people,” she said. “But there’s the 50 Shades of Grey effect where older people are being more explorative but not necessarily remembering to use a condom.”
Bowker broke down the numbers regarding who was purchasing 50 Shades of Grey. Based on sales to date, 14 percent of the book’s purchases came by way of people over the age of 55. That is more than 14 million copies going to the nice elderly woman down the street, her Bingo rivals, and a bunch of people just like them.
Obviously the 50 Shades of Grey element in all this is a bit tongue-in-cheek; however, the fact that older people are now struggling with sexually transmitted infections is both indisputable and very serious. Although the general consensus seems to be that the older you are, the more mentally equipped you are to practice safe sex, the numbers indicate something else entirely. According to figures from Public Health England, there has been a seven percent rise in new STIs among those 65 and over – not including chlamydia. Among those aged 45 to 64, there was an increase of nearly three percent. And while those numbers may not appear significant enough to be considered newsworthy, statistics from other parts of the world show that this is in fact a trend.
The United States, for example, has seen a far more noteworthy increase in sexually transmitted disease cases among people in the 45-to-64 age group. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 885 reported cases of syphilis in 45-to 64-year-olds in 2000. That number skyrocketed to more than 2,500 cases by 2010.
Remember – we are only talking about syphilis here. The figures look even worse when it comes to other STIs.
In 2000, there were 6,700 cases of chlamydia in the 45-to 64 age group; by 2010, there were around 19,000 cases. That is an astonishing 300 percent increase within a decade.
It gets worse: the number of older people living with HIV has nearly doubled, and 15 percent of new diagnoses of HIV in the U.S. were in people ages 50 and older.
It has gotten to the point where, according to ABC News, the Florida Health Department reportedly asked younger people to have the sex talk with their older parents.
Dr. Christopher Asandra M.D., Chief Medical Officer at NuMale Medical Center and Emergency Medicine physician, has conducted extensive research on sexual health in people of all ages, and recently weighed in on what could be done to address the rising rate of STIs among older adults.
“As a society, we mistakenly hold the mindset that young people are the only ones who need to be educated about the importance of safe sex,” Dr. Christopher Asandra said. “Clearly, these statistics are a strong indication that this is not the case. It’s fantastic that older populations are exploring their sexuality, but it's critical that they need to remember the importance of practicing safe sex – at any age.”
Is 50 Shades of Grey really to blame for this? With all due respect to Dr. Jones and her fellow specialists, seeing as the book came out in 2011 and STI rates among older people have been going up since 2000, probably not. Although the root cause of this problem is unknown at the moment, the fact that there is a problem is quite clear. As experts like Dr. Asandra have indicated, the faster the medical community acknowledges this, the faster we will be able to find a solution.