National Condom Day falls on Valentine’s Day, February 14, to bring into focus the need for being aware of the risks of contracting an STI, says Jean Hailes gynaecologist Dr Elizabeth Farrell AM.
“We want women to know that they can catch an STI at any age, so even if you’re not worried about getting pregnant anymore, you still need to use a condom to practise safer sex,” she says.
While common STIs in Australia, including chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, HIV and genital herpes are seen at higher levels in teenagers and young adults, anecdotally doctors are seeing a rise in some of these conditions in older women.
Genital herpes is one STI where the prevalence is significantly higher in women than men, with those aged 35-44 having the highest prevalence (16% of women compared to 8% of men).
Dr Farrell’s advice to women in their 40s and 50s who are out there dating is that wearing a condom has to be non-negotiable.
“I see lots of women who say ‘I don’t need to worry about getting pregnant anymore so I don’t bother with condoms’. I tell them that while your period is irregular it is possible to fall pregnant and, more importantly, you need protection from infection, not just pregnancy,” she says. “And for women who are postmenopausal and may be starting a new relationship, pregnancy is not an issue, but you should still use condoms to protect you from catching an STI.”
“My advice is to develop the confidence at any age to talk to your partner about wearing condoms. There are lots of fun condoms these days, so explore what’s available and make it fun and enjoyable.”
“And for men and women this Valentine’s Day, why not be creative and say it with condoms – make it fun, exciting and healthy.”
Tips for safer sex
Condoms are not just for stopping pregnancy – they are also the best way to protect against STIs
Condoms are one of the most accessible and inexpensive forms of birth control and protection from STIs
You may not know if you – or your partner – has an STI as there may not be any obvious signs
You can catch an STI at any age – you are never too young or too old to practise safe sex
Use condoms if you are in a new relationship
Develop the confidence to talk to your partner about wearing condoms