Is Safer Sex Necessary After 40?

The simple answer is yes. If you’re having sex with someone new (or someone you haven’t had sex with in a while), safer sex is a good idea until you both know you won’t end up with something you hadn’t bargained for- sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) don’t always produce symptoms.

When we were teenagers, “safer sex” meant birth control. For those of us who haven’t been out and about sexually in a while but are wading back into the pool in our 40s and beyond, safer sex could be new. While you still might need to think about avoiding an unplanned pregnancy, these days safer sex is so called because it limits the risk of getting STIs like chlamydia, herpes, gonorrhea, HIV, etc.


STI transmission

Generally, STIs are passed sexually from partner to partner through exchange of infected body fluids (semen, vaginal secretions, anal fluids, and blood in the case of microscopic tears in the skin) during unprotected vaginal, anal and oral sex. Hormone level changes during perimenopause (the years of menstrual cycle changes that lead up to menopause) and after menopause cause vaginal tissue to becomes less elastic and thinner. There also can be a decrease in natural vaginal lubrication, putting you at higher risk for STIs. Using male or female condoms can prevent the transmission of many STI’s, including HIV, but some can also be passed through skin-to-skin contact even if condoms are used, so talk to you partner about STIs.


STI prevention

Safer sex prevents the exchange of body fluids or blood. Male or female condoms  can be used for vaginal or anal sex. If you’re having both vaginal and anal sex, going from vaginal to anal is okay, but going from anal to vaginal can spread bacteria, so use a new condom. For oral sex, use condoms and dental dams (easier still is to cut a condom up the side to create a sheet that can be put across the person on the receiving end). If you or your partner has an active STI infection, you can switch from high contact sex to an alternate- masturbating together, phone sex….

Some men don’t like condoms – they say they’re too tight, too small, too uncomfortable, and take away sensation and pleasure. Using a water-based lubricant can change the way condoms feel for both partners. If it’s new to both of you, it can be a fun thing to make safer sex feel better, and sexier. Try different kinds of condoms- there are plenty of shapes and textures available. Check your packaging for expiry dates and to ensure your choice protects against STIs – for example, lambskin condoms don’t.

Use condoms with confidence and celebrate lubricant in its many forms! Lube is slippery, fun to apply to your partner, and makes sex feel so much better! It also reduces the risk of abrasion (to your body and your condoms). Lube is great. Use a water-based product, as oil-based products will break down latex (they’re okay with polyurethane). Most major drugstores stock a range of lubricants, or you can go to a sex shop, whatever’s comfortable. Some are thick, others are thin as water. They’re available flavoured and scented. Experiment on your own if you think you’d feel shy doing so with a partner.


A note on sex toys

Sex toys can be a great addition to your sex life, either alone or with a partner. If you’re using them with a partner, do so safely: use a fresh condom or barrier for each person, and use a new one if you’re going from anal to vaginal penetration. Clean them according to instructions so they’re good for years.


More information Sexual health science, culture and news for women edging to middle age, parents and educators. Info on sexually transmitted infections, relationship dynamics, aging and sexual health, and sex education.

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