Thoughts for Thursday

Part 3: Talkin’ ’bout My Generation



Members of the baby boom generation (yes, my generation)—the nomenclature given to the 76 million people born between 1946 and 1964—are now in our 50s, 60s, and 70s. Many of us are enjoying our retirement while others are still working. Regardless of our circumstances, we all share one challenge: aging as comfortably as we can. It’s a fact of our lives that as we age, we battle risk factors for a variety of conditions, ranging from diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer disease to … sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Ever since I saw the statistics about increasing rates of STIs among older Americans, I’ve been mulling possible explanations for this trend. In conversation with my CR colleagues, the question arose as to whether the fact that the current population of senior citizens is comprised largely of Baby Boomers has had an impact. It’s certainly worth considering!

We (the Baby Boomers) are more savvy, assertive, health-conscious, and engaged in our health care than the generations that preceded us.1,2 When I look around at my friends and colleagues, I see a group of people who want to live more active lives and remain socially engaged—even as we manage our chronic conditions! As self-determining patients, we are likely to question established principles of medical care, demanding greater attention to our own definitions of health-related quality of life, including a satisfactory sex life.3

In fact, some of this increase in STIs among older Americans could be explained by the availability of treatments that address the sexual dysfunction that comes with aging. Previous generations of older adults have faced menopause and erectile dysfunction—but Baby Boomers are living and aging at a time when the symptoms can be more effectively managed. For older women, there are bioidentical hormones to replace those lost during menopause, which is often cited as the primary offender affecting their sexual lives (despite research suggesting that social and psychologic factors—emotional well-being, a strong emotional association with one’s partner, and positive body image—may be more foretelling of sexual activity later in life than the hormonal changes related to menopause).4

As for erectile dysfunction, yes, some men still feel awkward about bringing it up with their clinician; it can feel enfeebling for men to acknowledge, even though the physiologic changes are explained by the biology of aging (as we alluded to last week). Continuing sales of Viagra and Cialis suggest that boomer men are overcoming the stigmas of revealing their erectile dysfunction, however.

And maybe that is a contributing factor to this trend in STIs: We are being equipped for sexual performance, but perhaps we haven’t been adequately educated on what the consequences of our sexual encounters are. A lot of today’s seniors were already married when sex education gained prominence and perhaps missed the “safe sex” talks.

When I discussed this with a colleague of mine—a retired employee of the State Department—he noted that this topic was talked about even among US Embassy staff! At the risk of making a sweeping generalization and stating the obvious, he observed that “sexual mores have changed over time. Even many generations ago, they thought previous generations had been restrictive about sexual behavior!” Nevertheless, we agreed that the generation now emerging as “older Americans” grew up during the ’60s Free Love movement—and that philosophy seems to have carried into some individuals’ current sexual behavior. My colleague also noted that “as we get older, we lose partners—and sexual monogamy is lost with the loss of a partner.”

Continue to: The Baby Boomers...

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