STDs such as chlamydia and herpes have increased among over-50s thanks to the so-called 'Fifty Shades effect' making us more sexually experimental -- without using a condom. By Daniela Soave for High50
After his divorce, my friend Tom was delighted when he started seeing someone new on a regular basis. But when he was eventually invited back to hers for more than just a hot drink, it didn't go quite as he had planned.
"She was shocked that I hadn't thought about using a condom," he told me later. "But worse than that, once she realised I hadn't had a full sexual health check, even oral sex was non-negotiable.
"She made it clear that if I wanted the relationship to progress I'd have to get the all-clear. When did it get so complicated?"
Tom's mistake -- and perhaps his salvation -- was to fall in lust with a woman 20-odd years his junior. When he was enjoying his first flush of sexual freedom in the 1980s, safe sex meant not getting girlfriends pregnant. But during the decades when Tom was married and off the market, however, the goalposts moved significantly -- and for good reason.
The stats on chlamydia and herpes
As experts have been pointing out for some time, the number of middle-aged and older people who have contracted sexually transmitted diseases has risen meteorically since the millennium.
According to the last big study, more men over 45 had developed genital herpes than their 16- to 19-year-old counterparts, and almost 13,000 people over 45 were diagnosed with an STI -- almost twice as many as ten years previously.
Chlamydia diagnosis in women over 50 had shot up by 95 percent. Gonorrhea, syphilis, warts - whichever STI you think of, everything was on the up.
Since then, the situation has only gotten worse and worse. New strains of STIs are becoming resistant to antibiotics.
A condom or a visit to the sexual health clinic?
For newly-single people who have been cosseted in a long-term relationship or marriage, sex with relative strangers can be a challenging terrain to negotiate.
Educational campaigns have been aimed at the young and as a result 20 and 30-somethings know the rules: condoms for casual sex and full sexual health checks when they move on to exclusive relationships.
However, many over-50s feel uneasy about visiting sexual health clinics, despite the fact that they forget about using condoms, because contraception is no longer an issue.
Another single friend confirms this. "None of the women in their 50s who I have slept with were bothered about using condoms," he says. "They saw them in terms of family planning, which they no longer need, rather than safe sex."
As Tom says, our generation is lucky enough to know what spontaneous sex is like without a condom. His relationship with his new girlfriend sadly did not last long enough to benefit from his sexual-health all-clear.
"All the same, I did feel like a virgin after I'd got the results," he says. "and it made me hesitate before throwing away my new-found purity on casual sex."