A recent study by Rachel Rettner and published in Live Science showed that nearly half of all U.S. men have a genital human papillomavirus (HPV), and men aged 58 to 59 (the oldest cohort in the study) had the HIGHEST rate of infection. At the same time, according to this study, women’s infection rates are lower in older women than it is in younger women. Why would this be? Why don’t women know of this prevalence rate? What can we do about it and what does it mean for our health?
A HPV vaccine is available and effective but it is currently only recommended for younger men. This recommendation is failing to take into account a changing – and ageing – U.S. population. Both men and women are living longer, and are re-entering (pardon the pun) the dating world after divorce, spousal death or by the growing popularity of on-line, anonymous dating websites. Both men and women need to become more educated about HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases. We need to initiate more candid discussions with our health care providers, and we must become more open and honest in our conversations with current and potential sexual partners.
Just because we’re not fertile and in danger of becoming pregnant does not mean we can afford to be carefree with respect to sex. Transmission of sexually transmitted diseases can be prevented by regular utilization of condoms that are effective, easily obtained and easy to use. We teach our children to be vigilant in their sexual encounters; we need to start following our own advice.
Make an appointment with your OB/GYN and get tested for STDs, and discuss strategies with your doctor on how you can protect yourself and your partners. STDs aren’t just for women; HPV can cause genital and oral cancers in men, too. It may feel awkward at first to have these conversations, but we are too smart and have too many years left to live at the top of our game to be silent about safe sex. Our lives and our health depend on it. Talk to your doctor – and your partner(s) - today.