A new sex health campaign is targeting people outside the "condom generation", in the wake of statistics showing sexually transmitted infections are becoming more prevalent in people aged over 50.
The condom education initiative, called the Little Black Dress Campaign and put together by Family Planning NSW, is aimed squarely at women.
The group's medical director, Dr Deborah Bateson, said the research for a subsequent male-focused campaign was yet to begin, but would likely result in a different approach.
Sexually transmitted infections are on the rise in the over 50s. Photo: Robert Banks
“[Sexual health] is a negotiation of course – it's a two-way street,” Dr Bateson said. “We did start with women but we're planning to survey men as well."
The campaign will run across various platforms and seeks to promote the message “safe sex is an easier conversation to have with your clothes on”.
Family Planning NSW developed the message after surveying female users about sex. To do so, they used the online dating site RSVP, which is owned by Fairfax Media, the publisher of this website.
The research found 40 per cent of women aged over 40 were as likely as younger women to have met someone online in the previous year.
“But the pivotal finding was that these women were significantly more likely to have sex without condoms,” Dr Bateson said.
“There are issues here relating to a lack of education and awareness – people feel embarrassed or judged raising sexual health with GPs as well as their sexual partners – but it's also the concept of the 'condom generation' coming into play.
“For people in their 60s now, it may be 40 years since they were first negotiating their sexual relationships, many years before the public's sexual health consciousness was raised with the grim reaper campaign and various other measures.”
Dr Bateson said that changes such as menopause also played into the equation, with many women not linking condoms to sex beyond the need for contraception, as well as a sense of invincibility that came with age.
Condoms were also thought to be a problem for men suffering from erectile dysfunction, she said. A professor at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Terence Hull said a wider, positive message about condoms needed to be communicated to both women and men.
While he praised the campaign as a step in the right direction, Professor Hull outlined the need to include men in the conversation.
However the simple fact the campaign put safe sex on the agenda would help the community at large, he said.
“Often the impact is not just about getting one person recently divorced or widowed to be aware of their reproductive health needs,” he said.
“There are also indirect effects; in targeting the 40-year-olds with an age-appropriate message, they're also providing parents with a message they can pass on to their teenage kids.
“And I would imagine the 40-year-old man watching that film would also absorb information – the fact that it's targeted at women means that it's using messages and symbols and ideas relevant to women, but that doesn't mean it's not going to be relevant to men as well.”
But campaigns for condoms needed to show people how to use them; Professor Hull said many people did not know how to put on a condom, regardless of their age.
“There are also many new forms of female condoms coming on the markets,” he said. “We need to educate about the dialogue, and the technology – how these condoms are used – but we also need to educate about the opportunity.
“It's not part of this campaign, but for the 40-year-old woman who wants to take control of her sexual health, these other methods are also out there and they can be extremely empowering.
“We need to be saying, 'everybody think about what you're doing and consider what you're options are – be aware'.”
The Little Black Dress campaign will see safe sex packs containing a condom, lube and instructions on how to use condoms distributed to Family Planning NSW's partner organisations as well as at future RSVP events.
The complete series of campaign videos and articles will be released on the Family Planning NSW website, fpnsw.org.au.