Sexually transmitted infection rates have not increased as dramatically in older women as they have in women in their teens and 20s, but rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea in women over age 35 have seen a steady incline over the past decade, and syphilis rates have climbed steeply, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That makes thereleased by the CDC in July even timelier for practitioners of menopause medicine, according to Michael S. Policar, MD, MPH, a professor emeritus of ob.gyn. and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco.
Dr. Policar discussed what clinicians need to know about STIs in midlife women at the hybrid annual meeting of the North American Menopause Society. Even the nomenclature change in the guidelines from “sexually transmitted diseases” to “sexually transmitted infections” is important “because they want to acknowledge the fact that a lot of the sexually transmitted infections that we’re treating are asymptomatic, are colonizations, and are not yet diseases,” Dr. Policar said. “We’re trying to be much more expansive in thinking about finding these infections before they actually start causing morbidity in the form of a disease.”
The primary guidelines update for taking sexual history is the recommendation to ask patients about their intentions regarding pregnancy. The “5 Ps” of sexual history are now Partners, Practices, Protection from STIs, Past history of STIs, and Pregnancy intention.
“There should be a sixth P that has to do with pleasure questions,” Policar added. “We ask all the time for patients that we see in the context of perimenopausal and menopausal services, ‘Are you satisfied with your sexual relationship with your partner?’ Hopefully that will make it into the CDC guidelines as the sixth P at some point, but for now, that’s aspirational.”
In asking about partners, instead of asking patients whether they have sex with men, women, or both, clinicians should ask first if the patient is having sex of any kind – oral, vaginal, or anal – with anyone. From there, providers should ask how many sex partners the patient has had, the gender(s) of the partners, and whether they or their partners have other sex partners, using more gender-inclusive language.
When asking about practices, in addition to asking about the type of sexual contact patients have had, additional questions include whether the patient met their partners online or through apps, whether they or any of their partners use drugs, and whether the patient has exchanged sex for any needs, such as money, housing, or drugs. The additional questions can identify those at higher risk for STIs.
After reviewing the CDC’s list of risk factors for gonorrhea and chlamydia screening, Dr. Policar shared the screening list from the California Department of Public Health, which he finds more helpful:
- History of gonorrhea, chlamydia, or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in the past 2 years.
- More than 1 sexual partner in the past year.
- New sexual partner within 90 days.
- Reason to believe that a sex partner has had other partners in the past year.
- Exchanging sex for drugs or money within the past year.
- Other factors identified locally, including prevalence of infection in the community.