Over-40s less likely to practise safe sex

Women over the age of 40 are less likely to present for smear tests or use contraception, according to data from the Dublin Well Woman Centre.

Over-40s less likely to practise safe sex

This ostensibly cavalier approach to sexual health has been described as “worrying” by Alison Begas, chief executive of DWWC.

“Regular smear tests have been shown to be the most effective way to detect changes in the cells of the cervix, which can lead to cervical cancer,” said Ms Begas. “Keeping up to date with regular smear tests is by far the most effective way for women aged 25–60 to protect themselves from this preventable disease.”

The data also showed that women over 40 were more likely to consider that they did not need to use contraception, Ms Begas said. The advice was that women should continue to use contraception until after the menopause and avail of the free Cervical Check programme until age 60.

Other figures contained in the DWWC annual report 2013 show:

nA decrease in the number of patients who had full sexual health screens — down 12% on last year and down 40% since a pre-recession peak of 2,676 full screens in 2007, compared to 1,581 last year. Shirley McQuade, DWWC medical director, said that this may be “a financial decision on the part of patients”;

nChlamydia continues to be a concern for patients. More than 4,000 tests were taken in 2013 and 4.6% were positive;

Undiagnosed and untreated, an infection can cause pelvic inflammation leading to an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy, infertility and chronic pelvic pain.

nContraceptive implants are popular among younger age groups. Women of all ages who prefer to have non-hormonal contraception choose to have copper coils fitted. Some 881 long-acting reversible contraceptive devices (LARCs) were fitted by the Well Woman Centre in 2013, compared to 914 in 2012. The trend continues to be women opting for long-acting reversible contraceptive devices.

The DWWC report also highlighted the impact of last year’s abortion legislation on women seeking counselling following terminations. Linda Wilson Long, head of counselling services, said that while women “do not avail of abortion aftercare services in the numbers we would hope to see”, they had nonetheless noted an increase in clients.

“Hopefully this suggests that the... stigma of abortion in Ireland and the secrecy for clients when they return to family, friends and work conditions is lessening,” said Ms Wilson Long.

The DWWC has called on the Health Minister Leo Varadkar and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to prioritise the publication of the National Sexual Health Strategy, which they said had been delayed for too long. For more information on smear tests, go online to wellwomancentre.ie or cervicalcheck.ie

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