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STDs among people over 60 up almost 30 percent

Oct 31,2017
Cases of sexually transmitted diseases among people over 60 have increased 28.5 percent in the last four years in Korea, possibly the result of a sexually active demographic never receiving sex education relevant to modern STDs.

About 30 percent more people in their 60s, and 25 percent more in their 70s, were treated for syphilis, gonorrhea or AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) between 2013 and the first half of 2017, according to data from the National Health Insurance Service, which was published on Oct. 13 by ruling Democratic Party Rep. In Jae-keun, a member of the National Assembly’s Health and Welfare Committee.

During the same period, the rate of patients in their 40s who were treated for these diseases declined by 0.7 percent. “The issue of sexually transmitted diseases in this demographic has risen in prominence in the last 10 years,” said Kang Dong-woo, director of the Korean Institute for Sexual and Couple’s Health. “They have broken from stereotypes and are enjoying an active sex life.”

But while the use of erectile dysfunction drugs and advanced medical treatments have allowed older adults to enjoy more active sex lives, Korean sex education in the 1950s has left many ill-prepared, and though some community centers hold classes, accessibility to such education is still limited.

“Compared to other countries,” Kang said, “Korea’s older adults have a lower level of sexual knowledge. They think sex is something that can be easily bought with money, and they don’t use condoms because the risk of pregnancy is low.”

In fact, prostitution services provided by older women to older men are so common in Korea that they became the subject of an award-winning Korean movie as well as an HBO Vice documentary. The so-called Bacchus Ladies roam tourist hot spots like Seoul’s Jongno District, asking older men if they want to buy canned coffee or the Korean energy drink Bacchus, a coded way to proposition them.

The inability to recognize the symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases exacerbates the problem. Previously, when syphilis and gonorrhea were common, they were easily identified by genital ulcers or yellowish discharge. But many sexually transmitted diseases nowadays do not necessarily show symptoms, making it easier for the infected to unknowingly pass them on to others.

Even when symptoms are obvious, older adults may simply disregard abnormalities as symptoms of aging.

“Older adults will be able to prevent the expansion of sexually transmitted diseases,” Kang suggested, “if they receive regular check-ups to identify infections in their urogenital organs.”

“These people are exposed to relatively more vulnerable situations compared to others,” said In. “The government has to respond to this blind spot by addressing the problem so that a proper sex culture can be established.”

BY JEONG JONG-HOON, KIM EUN-JIN [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]