Safer Sex After 50

A new study finds women over 50 want help negotiating safer sex and need better conversations about sex with healthcare providers. This follows reports of increases in STIs amongst those over 45 over the last few years.

Gasp! Women over 50 have sex! And not just inside decades-long marriages! (Figured I’d get that out of the way for those who think this is news.)

So what does sex ed look like after 50? Most older women have heard of sexually transmitted infections and know safer sex can radically reduce the risk of them. The big missing pieces tend to be comfort and assertiveness talking about sex and sexual health. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. You already have limits, boundaries, desires and preferences that are givens when you have sex. Think of safety as another piece of that pie. Let’s say a limit and desire you have is that sex can only happen in ways safe for you. You then present that to partners in a firm, but relaxed way: If sex is going to happen, it needs to be safer. Someone can say yes to what you need and have sex with you, or they can say no, and that’s fine, but will just mean no sex with you.
  2. Being assertive and relaxed about safer sex will tend to get the best reception. For instance, if you slide a condom or glove over as if it’s the most normal thing in the world–and for some of us, it is–a partner is more likely to cheerfully use it than if you’re apologetic and make it sound like you’re asking them to make a great sacrifice (it isn’t) or do something horribly unpleasant (it’s not).
  3. Get informed. Unfortunately, some healthcare providers can be less than helpful: Like anyone, they may have biases or outdated education, or be twitchy about sex. If the provider you have isn’t serving you or you don’t feel comfortable talking with them, ask for or seek out another. You can get good information on the Internet or in books; Pepper Schwartz and Joan Price are two educators who focus on senior sex. Our Bodies, Ourselves addresses sexual health for all ages. Independent, women-friendly sex toy stores often offer workshops and classes, too.
  4. It’s okay to wear water wings. Just because you had some kinds of sex in the past doesn’t mean they’ll be right for you now. If you don’t feel “there yet” with negotiating safer sex, stick to kinds of sex with lower or no STI risks while you learn to swim in this new pool.
  5. Do you really want a partner who isn’t invested in basic ways of caring for your health and theirs? Some bonuses of being past our teens and twenties are that we’re usually more confident in what we want, more capable of asserting ourselves, more aware that a sexual partner who isn’t a good fit for us is not better than none at all. You want an awesome sexual life, which includes valuing your health. Put that goal in front of fears of rejection or conflict, and you’re much more likely to get it.

Stay tuned for more from Heather, founder and editor of, who will be writing regular, candid, feminist sex advice for the Ms. Blog–and not a moment too soon!

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Heather Corinna is the executive director of Scarleteen, the inclusive online resource for teen and young adult sexuality education and information she founded in 1998. She is the author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College; a co-founder of the All Girl Army; and director of the CONNECT sexual health outreach program for King County, which primarily serves homeless and transient youth. She is on the editorial board of the American Journal of Sexuality Education, a writer and contributing editor for the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, a member of the Board of Directors for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, and her sexuality advice is also syndicated weekly at RH Reality Check. Heather was the winner of The Champions of Sexual Literacy Award for Grassroots Activism from the National Sexuality Resource Center/SFSU in 2007; in 2009 the winner of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Western Region's Public Service Award and the Our Bodies, Ourselves' Women's Health Heroes Award. In 2011, Scarleteen won a Seattle Web Award for Best Nonprofit Website. A Chicago native, she now lives and works on an island in the Pacific Northwest.