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What You Should Know About Safer Sex

Whether you’re single or in a relationship, here’s what you need to know in order to have a happy, safe and healthy sex life.

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You need more sex-ed

If the last time you took a sex-ed class was pre-Internet, you need a refresher. Despite decades of safer-sex campaigns, chlamydia rates more than tripled in Canada from 1997 to 2015, while syphilis rates increased almost tenfold.

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Seniors should be getting tested…

Sexually transmitted blood-borne infections (STBBIs) affect seniors, too. From 2013 to 2017, Canadians over 60 had the highest relative rate increase (over 60 per cent) for chlamydia compared to any other demographic.

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…because seniors are still having sex

An American survey found more than half of adults aged 65 to 74 have had sex in the past year, and more than a quarter of people aged 75 to 85 still have sex. “People are entering their senior years fitter, healthier and often single,” says Alex McKay, executive director of the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada.

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Most people over 40 aren’t using condoms

A study from the University of Guelph found that 65 per cent of men and 72 per cent of women aged 40 to 59 say they didn’t use a condom the last time they had sex.

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Talking about protection is easier than you think

Don’t know how to broach the subject of protection with your partner? “Practice the conversation with yourself first, and try to have it over the phone or on a walk so you’re not staring at each other,” says Toronto sexual health educator Shelley Taylor. A less confrontational approach “allows everyone more space to process their feelings.”

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More often than not, STBBIs are asymptomatic

Medical experts recommend routine testing every year and every time you change partners.

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Your annual checkup isn’t enough

Your family doctor may not ask you about your sexual health at all. “Many health care providers see older adults as asexual and are embarrassed by the idea of seniors being sexually active,” says Taylor.

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You shouldn’t wait to get treatment

Any oral, anal or genital bumps, rashes, unusual discharge, burning or other changes need to be investigated. Up to 40 per cent of women with untreated chlamydia eventually develop pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause pain, infertility and cervical cancer.

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There are alternatives to your family doctor

If you’re too embarrassed to discuss your sex life with your GP, sexual health clinics in some cities offer free testing with a provincial health card. Or you can order a home testing kit for up to 10 common STBBIs, many of which can be easily treated with common medications, from LetsGetChecked.com.

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When you get tested matters

Gonorrhea won’t show up on a test for seven days, while chlamydia, HPV, herpes, syphilis and hepatitis A, B and C can take several weeks. HIV test results may not be accurate for three months.

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Chronic STBBIs are more common than you think

The social stigma of a chronic STBBI like genital herpes can be painful. But you’re not alone—an estimated one in seven Canadians has it, and most are unaware.

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Condoms have improved

Condoms are better than they used to be. There are options with thinner latex and other materials for people with latex allergies.

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Lube can make your sex life way better

A must-have condom companion: lube. Not only does it feel better—it makes sex safer. “A condom without lubrication is more likely to tear,” says Brittany Neron, health promotion officer with Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights. Make sure you’re using a lubricant marked “condom safe,” and never use oil, which can break down latex.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada