SEX AF­TER

MORE VI­BRANT? HOPE­FULLY. MORE DAN­GER­OUS? LIKELY. Safety first. While it may be the least sexy slo­gan ever, prac­tis­ing safe sex has never been more im­por­tant for newly sin­gle mid-life Cana­di­ans.

Best Health - - CONTENTS - by ANDREA KARR

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

“YOU HAVE CHLAMY­DIA.” NO WOMAN EVER WANTS

to hear those words, but that’s what Tracy Hill’s* doc­tor told her just over a year ago. Hill, who was 46 at the time, had vis­ited her GP for blood work and a Pap smear be­cause she had been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing low en­ergy and heavy pe­ri­ods. Two days later, the phone rang and her doc­tor broke the news that she had a sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tion (STI). Tracy laughed. “No, no, this is Tracy Hill,” she said. “You called the wrong Tracy.” But it wasn’t a mis­take.

Hill soon dis­cov­ered that her boyfriend of 31/2 years had con­tracted chlamy­dia when he slept with an­other woman while va­ca­tion­ing in Mex­ico. He then passed the STI on to Tracy. “I was in shock,” she says. “It was the fur­thest thing from my mind. It wasn’t like we were newly dat­ing; our fam­i­lies were en­meshed to­gether.” Hill and her boyfriend didn’t use con­doms any­more, how­ever she thought she was safe be­cause she was in a com­mit­ted, long-term re­la­tion­ship.

These days, STIs aren’t just the ter­ri­tory of teens and young adults. In fact, more 40- and 50-some­thing women are re-en­ter­ing the dat­ing world af­ter di­vorce, sep­a­ra­tion or wid­ow­hood than ever be­fore and, as a re­sult, STIs are on the rise in Cana­di­ans over 40. Re­ported rates of chlamy­dia alone in­creased by 153 per­cent in peo­ple aged 40 to 59 be­tween 2003 and 2012. Why? Sin­gle mid-life Cana­di­ans are hav­ing vi­brant sex lives, but many of them aren’t

us­ing pro­tec­tion. A re­cent study con­ducted by Tro­jan and the Sex In­for­ma­tion and Education Coun­cil of Canada (SIECCAN) showed that less than half of sin­gle men and women with three or more sex­ual part­ners in the past year had ac­tu­ally used a con­dom in their last sex­ual en­counter. “We have peo­ple com­ing back to the dat­ing mar­ket­place who haven’t had to ne­go­ti­ate this stuff for 20 years or more,” says Dr. Robin Mil­hausen, a sex­u­al­ity and re­la­tion­ship ex­pert at the Uni­ver­sity of Guelph who helped lead the mid-life sex study. “They are out of prac­tice and feel re­ally self-con­scious talk­ing about con­dom use.”

STIs aren’t the only thing that sex­u­ally ac­tive women have to worry about; un­ex­pected preg­nan­cies can still oc­cur in mid-life. In 2013, the num­ber of abor­tions for women over 35 re­ported in Canada ex­ceeded those per­formed on teens, ac­cord­ing to the Cana­dian In­sti­tute for Health In­for­ma­tion. Though it’s still un­clear what has caused the rise in abor­tions in mid-life, one rea­son may be that women stop us­ing con­tra­cep­tion be­cause it’s been widely dis­sem­i­nated that fer­til­ity de­creases sig­nif­i­cantly af­ter 35. How­ever, de­creased fer­til­ity and in­fer­til­ity aren’t the same thing. It may also be the case that women who rely on track­ing their cy­cles as a method of birth con­trol are thrown for a loop when the reg­u­lar­ity of their pe­ri­ods shifts when they en­ter their 40s. Whether you have been in the same re­la­tion­ship for decades or are start­ing some­thing new, if you haven’t hit menopause, you’ll need to use con­tra­cep­tion (like the pill, a hor­monal patch, an IUD or a con­dom) if you don’t want to get preg­nant.

For STI pre­ven­tion, con­dom use is still the most ef­fec­tive method, but con­doms are not 100 per­cent STI-proof (be­cause some STIs, such as her­pes and HPV, can be spread through sores or skin not cov­ered by a con­dom). Many com­mon in­fec­tions, in­clud­ing chlamy­dia, gon­or­rhea, HIV and hep­ati­tis B and C, can be trans­mit­ted through se­cre­tions like se­men, vagi­nal f lu­ids and blood and can largely be pre­vented by slip­ping on a con­dom be­fore sex­ual con­tact be­gins and re­mov­ing it only af­ter sex­ual con­tact is com­plete. And don’t for­get that swapping flu­ids while shar­ing sex toys or prac­tis­ing oral or anal sex can also trans­mit in­fec­tions.

When it comes to talk­ing to your part­ner about con­dom use, “There’s no magic way to do it,” says Dr. Mil­hausen. “I think our part­ners are likely to be grate­ful if we raise the ques­tion and we come across as com­pe­tent and con­fi­dent. Just say ‘Can we talk about con­doms?’ Or ‘Let’s not go fur­ther un­til we get a con­dom.’” If your part­ner re­acts badly or tries to con­vince you that a con­dom isn’t nec­es­sary, he is putting his plea­sure and grat­i­fi­ca­tion above your sex­ual health.

Out­side the bed­room, pay at­ten­tion to your body and visit a doc­tor if you no­tice symp­toms such as painful uri­na­tion, vagi­nal dis­charge, pelvic pain, gen­i­tal warts or sores. If caught early, many STIs can be treated with a course of an­tibi­otics, but if left un­treated, they can have long-term side ef­fects. Chlamy­dia and gon­or­rhea can cause an in­fec­tion in the Fal­lop­ian tubes, that could lead to in­fer­til­ity. HPV, a virus for which a vac­ci­na­tion is avail­able that has been tested on women up to age 45, can cause can­cer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus or mouth. Hep­ati­tis B, an­other STI with a vac­cine that’s usu­ally ad­min­is­tered in child­hood, can cause liver can­cer. And, al­though very, very rare, syphilis can even­tu­ally lead to blind­ness, paral­y­sis or death.

In many cases, though, men and women don’t ex­pe­ri­ence any symp­toms at all, even though they’re con­ta­gious. “You might come in con­tact with an STI and not get it,” says Toronto gy­ne­col­o­gist Dr. Nancy Durand. “Or you could carry it with no man­i­fes­ta­tion.” That’s why fre­quent Pap tests and STI test­ing should be­come part of your self-care rou­tine. All of this in­for­ma­tion may seem daunt­ing, es­pe­cially if you’re try­ing to re-en­ter the dat­ing scene, but the pos­si­ble re­ward – a healthy and sat­is­fy­ing sex life – is to­tally worth it.

Re­la­tion­ship ex­pert and au­thor

Laura Bilotta of the dat­ing web­site Sin­gle in the City (sin­gleinthecity.ca) of­fers her tips for get­ting back into the dat­ing game in 2017

CHECK YOUR BAG­GAGE If you’re re­cently sin­gle af­ter a long-term re­la­tion­ship, it’s im­por­tant to man­age your own bag­gage be­fore de­vel­op­ing new ro­man­tic ties. “If you’ve been hurt in the past, don’t paint your part­ner a cer­tain way be­cause of that,” sug­gests Bilotta. For ex­am­ple, don’t stereo­type your new part­ner as a cheater just be­cause your ex was.

GET TO WORK (ON YOUR­SELF)

Be­fore you start dat­ing, fill your life with things that make you happy and healthy rather than re­ly­ing on a new part­ner to do that for you. Find a hobby, vol­un­teer, ex­er­cise, travel, hang out with friends and make health and fitness a pri­or­ity. Bonus: You’ll be­come more con­fi­dent and, thus, even more at­trac­tive.

GO ON­LINE

On­line dat­ing used to be taboo, but now it’s a main­stream method for meet­ing po­ten­tial part­ners. Bilotta rec­om­mends sites and phone apps such as Our Time, Match, eHar­mony and Bum­ble for women over 40. When ini­ti­at­ing a chat, ref­er­ence some­thing in your match’s pro­file so that he knows you’ve read it and will be more likely to re­spond. Bilotta also rec­om­mends chat­ting only three or four times be­fore sched­ul­ing a date. She sug­gests that you don’t wait too long to meet some­body, as it could be a waste of time if there’s no spark in per­son.

ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT

Don’t set­tle for less than what you want. For in­stance, if you’re look­ing for a boyfriend and your new man is only a booty call, move on. “If a guy wants to be with you, he’ll make time for you,” says Bilotta.

HAVE FUN

Try to en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence of meet­ing new peo­ple, vis­it­ing restau­rants and try­ing new ac­tiv­i­ties. Take it lightly and get out there as much as pos­si­ble. If the thought of dat­ing seems like the worst thing in the world right now, take a break be­cause it should never feel like a chore.

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