Experts define “cougar” as term for an older woman who prefers to date younger men.Over the past few years we’ve seen a dramatic rise in the rates of sexually transmitted infections among African women aged 55 years and older.Rates of gonorrhoea more than doubled in this age group between 2010 and 2015 according to latest studies. Rates of chlamydia also rose significantly during this time, mirroring similar trends internationally.Sexually transmitted infections can be accompanied by some unpleasant symptoms and health complications, or lead to major chronic conditions, in the case of HIV. It’s therefore important sexually transmitted infections are diagnosed and treated, regardless of age.To understand why sexually transmitted infections are on the rise in Africa, one need to know more about older people’s sexual and romantic relationships, their knowledge of sexually transmitted infections and safe sex, and the safe sex practices that they use. In Africa, older people are intentionally excluded from research on sex and relationships because its highly unlikely a 30 year old Africa lady can ask a woman aged 65 about her sex life. Here’s what we know so far. Improvements to life expectancy and overall health in later life mean that older people in Africa may be more willing and able to engage in varying kinds of sexual activity. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that remaining sexually active is associated with better health in older age.Changes in the social acceptability of divorce and dating in later life have also opened up the possibility of entering in to a new sexual relationship. With new sexual partners comes an increased possibility of contracting sexually transmitted infections.
Alongside this, internet dating has increased the opportunities to meet new sexual partners. In addition, medical advances have made penetrative sex in later life more of a possibility for older men than was previously the case and Africans haven’t been left behind.However, this does not mean that all older people in Africa are sexually active, or that they are sexually active in the same ways as younger people. Instead, data in my possession suggests that older people engage in a diverse range of sexual practices, and may have to adjust to ageing bodies. Despite these changes, and increasing evidence that older people continue to be sexually active, there’s a reluctance to acknowledge this shift in Africa. Many in the community continue to cling to outdated and ageist assumptions that older people are asexual.General Practitioners in Africa assume the topic of sexual health is not relevant to older people, and fail to proactively raise this issue with their older patients. This is often based on an incorrect assumption that older people are no longer sexual.This reluctance can have direct and negative implications for the sexual health of older people. It becomes less likely that older patients will be offered routine sexual health screenings.When we talk about safe sex and sexually transmitted infections, Africa focus tends to be on younger people.
In some ways this makes sense because many younger people in Africa are entering their first sexual relationships and need to learn how to have sex safely.There is also an assumption that older people already know about safe sex. Studies in Kenya and Nigeria show that for those who have been in long-term, monogamous relationships, using condoms may have seemed irrelevant.Older Africans need different types of information at different stages in the life course. Those reentering the dating or casual sex scenes, for instance, might benefit from a refresher on safe sex.Older people might also have different safe sex needs to their younger counterparts.Africans need age specific education and resources.Sexually transmitted infections can be costly to treat, and the economic burden of sexually transmitted infections increases with delayed diagnosis and treatment. Delayed treatment can result in more severe symptoms and complications. Ignoring older people as sexual beings may contribute towards poorer overall health and deny their sexual agency.I think African countries need to be more proactive in engaging older Africans around their sexual health. This could start with providing education, access to testing, and opportunities for discussions about sex, relationships, and sexual health.They also need to know more about sex and relationships among older Africans and what they already know or don’t know about sexually transmitted infections and safe sex.