A new European funded project is underway in Kent to tackle the rising number of sexually transmitted infections among people in their forties by encouraging people to discuss the issue.
Studies reveal major changes in sexual behaviour over the last century, including increasing numbers of sexually active older people. The over-45s at risk are generally those entering new sexual relationships after a period of monogamy, often post-menopause (when pregnancy is no longer a consideration, but little thought is given to STIs).
SHIFT is a newly-approved EU-funded project, linking organisations across the South East of England, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The project will engage with those over 45, developing a tailored sexual health and wellbeing model, supported by training programmes for sexual health professionals and the wider workforce.
Allison Duggal from Kent County Council Public Health said: “People don’t stop having sex in their forties – but they don’t always like talking about it. However, they really should – sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the rise amongst adults. To reverse this, we need to get people engaged and talking, so they can access services and continue to look after their sexual health into middle age, and beyond.”
Studies in and beyond Europe (e.g. the World Health Organisation’s Sexual Health Throughout Life) highlight the need for older people to have better access to sexual health support and care. The correlation is clear between this gap in services and the rise in sexually transmitted infection rates.
Partner research has shown that groups experiencing socio-economic disadvantage, such as homeless people, sex workers, non-native language speakers, and migrants are at even greater risk of being unaware of their sexual health and unable to access the appropriate services.
SHIFT was approved and funded by the EU Interreg 2Seas programme 2014-2020 (co-funded by the European Regional Development fund) and has secured more than €2.5 million of European funding in its €4.2 million partnership involving 11 organisations from the UK, The Netherlands, France and Belgium including Kent County Council.
Stephen Grice, Head of Sexual Health Services at Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust said: “The objective of SHIFT is to improve the sexual health and wellbeing of people aged 45 and over, empowering them to participate in sexual health services, with an additional and specifically adapted focus on socio-economically disadvantaged groups.
“A sexual health and wellbeing model to engage with people aged 45 and over will reach 150,000 relevant people across the 2Seas area and increase awareness by 50% about sexual health issues. SHIFT will aim to reduce stigma and increase engagement with sexual health services among this group.”
The tailored strategy will reach 40,000 people experiencing socio-economic vulnerability and will create a network of links with organisations who work directly with these groups to ensure increased awareness about the specific approaches required when discussing sexual health.
SHIFT will also develop two sexual health and wellbeing training programmes for sexual health professionals and for the wider workforce improving both awareness and confidence in addressing the subject with these groups.
Note to editors:
Interreg 2 Seas: http://www.interreg2seas.eu/
Interreg 2 Seas 2014-2020 is a European Territorial Cooperation Programme covering England, France, the Netherlands and Belgium (Flanders). The Programme is part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund and has a total of €241m (£203m) ERDF to co-finance projects in the 2014 – 2020 period.
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