June 24th, 2010
03:39 PM ET

Study: Older folks swinging their way to STDs

By Caitlin Hagan
CNN Medical Associate Producer

Sexually transmitted infections are probably not what most older Americans anticipate dealing with as they age. Yet they're becoming an unfortunate reality for some in the over-45 crowd. A study published in the British Medical Journal finds that older "swingers,"  - the term the researchers used - are at high risk for chlamydia and gonorrhea, two of the most common sexually transmitted infections. The infection rates among older study subjects were nearly as high as in other high-risk populations, including men who have sex with men and young people.

The study authors defined swingers as "heterosexual couples who are practising mate swapping, group sex, [or who] visit sex clubs for couples." While it sounds obvious that this lifestyle puts people at higher risk for sexually transmitted infections, the concern is that because older people are not as well educated about sexually transmitted diseases as their younger partners, they don't regularly practice safe sex or get regular screenings to detect infections.

The researchers looked at data collected over a two-year period at a sexually transmitted infections clinic in the Netherlands. All patients visiting the clinic were asked directly if they were swingers. The infections rates were determined using that self-reported data from nearly 9,000 patients.

Overall, swingers had the second highest combined rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea with 10.4 percent of swingers being infected. That's compared with 14 percent of gay men, 10 percent in straight people who did not swing, and 5 percent in female prostitutes.

When the researchers specifically looked at the over-45 population, they found 55 percent of the diagnoses for chlamydia and gonorrhea occurred in swingers, versus 31 percent in gay men.

Reliable statistics for how many couples practice swinging are hard to come by. Some dating websites for American swinging couples boast memberships in the tens of millions and advocates of swinging say it's become a popular mainstream lifestyle choice for millions. The study authors hypothesize that the number of willing partners and the prevalence of unprotected sex among older individuals puts swingers at a higher risk for sexually transmitted infections. To lower the risk but continue with their lifestyle, researchers recommend swingers be tested for common infections like chlamydia and gonorrhea regularly and practice safe sex, including regular condom use.

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soundoff (122 Responses)
  1. Laurent

    "with 10.4 percent of swingers being infected. That's compared with [...] 10 percent in straight people who did not swing."

    That 0.4 percent doesn't seem all that impressive. I don't have access to the study, so I can't look at the p-values, but it seems that the heterosexual swinging population has almost the same infection rates as the non-swinging heterosexual population.

    June 24, 2010 at 16:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Valerie


    June 24, 2010 at 16:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Not A. Swinger

    "Older folks swinging their way to STDs ..... older "swingers," ... are at high risk for chlamydia and gonorrhea" sounds very alarming, until you read the details and consider other factors.

    "10.4 percent (risk) of swingers being infected ... compared with 14 percent of gay men, 10 percent in straight people who did not swing"
    Really? Only a 0.4% increase over straight..." That's NOT a comparatively high risk.

    In "... the over-45 population, they found 55 percent of the diagnoses for chlamydia and gonorrhea occurred in swingers, versus 31 percent in gay men" - This is meaningless without more data, such as the comparative size of the populations.

    " The study authors hypothesize ...." Yeah, a lot of hypothesis and little to back it up. The only worthwhile line in this article is "...researchers recommend swingers be tested for common infections like chlamydia and gonorrhea regularly and practice safe sex."

    June 24, 2010 at 16:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. froggy

    "Overall, swingers had the second highest combined rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea with 10.4 percent of swingers being infected. That's compared with 14 percent of gay men, 10 percent in straight people who did not swing, and 5 percent in female prostitutes."

    Anyone else a little shocked that the rates are so low among working girls? I guess this is a testament to their professionalism.

    June 24, 2010 at 16:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Concerned

    What about the apparent "fact" that heterosexual non-swingers have a higher rate of infection with STD's than PROSTITUTES? How is that possible? So to reduce my risk of contracting an STD, I'm better off taking up prostitution rather than just being a non-swinging straight female...

    The "self-reported" status is also suspect. Did they have an attractive female interview the study participants, asking them "Do you swing?" in a seemingly interested manner? Or a grandmotherly looking women saying sternly, "You don't swing, do you?"

    June 24, 2010 at 17:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SF Swinger

      I agree with 'Concern' – Heterosexuals have a higher rate than prostitutes. Prostitutes have had more intense exposure to the possibility of acquiring potentially deadly diseases, and many have learned their lesson the hard way. Heterosexuals are still in denial – 'disease only happens to others'.

      As for 45+ couples who are swingers, education may also explain the high rate of disease. Younger crowds have been targeted more intensively in schools and know better than to engage in risky practices.

      As for us, we are 45+ and swing with condoms only.

      September 29, 2010 at 17:29 | Report abuse |
  6. Oldnsingle


    Hey, old is not gross, us older guys are like seasoned wood, we burn longer and give off more heat!

    June 24, 2010 at 17:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. CMH

    Valerie – LOL! I'm getting close to the 'old' category (45+) and even I agree, totally GROSS.

    June 24, 2010 at 17:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Laura

      I don't know. I've met a couple of 60+ men who are HOT, and know many under 30 that are gross. imo, many younger men are actually less healthy (ie, they are FAT) than their fathers and grandfathers.
      PS I'm in my 30's, and fit. 😛

      As for the prostitutes having a lower rate, I doubt that, but if it's true, it's because they use condoms 100% of the time.

      June 25, 2010 at 16:22 | Report abuse |
  8. Crazy J


    i think he means by "group"

    "Overall, swingers had the second highest combined rates"

    Gay men being 14
    Swingers 10.4
    People who dont swing 10
    Female prostitutes 5

    June 24, 2010 at 17:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Mat

    Loosing breath, can't stop laughing..... Old swingers.....haaahaahaaaaa...

    June 24, 2010 at 17:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Not A Swinger

    Valerie says "Old+Swingers=GROSS"

    Young + Valerie = Stupid

    I'm only bothering to reply to you in the hope that it may stick your stupid comment in your mind so that it comes back to haunt you in 30 to 50 years.

    June 24, 2010 at 17:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. american tools

    Let's whip up the anti-sex hysteria again! I think if you swabbed the average 40+ female swinger versus the average 20-something skank you would meet at a bar, nightclub or party, that the swinger would have MUCH less cooties than the younger 'party girl'.

    June 24, 2010 at 17:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. James

    There is either a typo in the data, I'm misunderstanding something, or the safest thing to be is a female prostitute who apparently have half the infection rate of heterosexuals who do not swing.

    Also, the obvious factor that wasn't touched on is that safe sex is probably not being practiced by older swingers because many of the women are likely post baby making time so both parties feel like they don't need to suit up. Mistake.

    June 24, 2010 at 18:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Laura

      Yeah, I think that they think that since they can't make babies anymore that a condom isn't needed.

      June 25, 2010 at 16:25 | Report abuse |
  13. Josh

    Less than 0.5% difference between swingers and non-swingers? So if you took a group of 100 people of each group, each would have 10. This seems more like evidence that swinging isn't dangerous rather than the opposite.

    June 24, 2010 at 18:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Lauren

    I think the information is presented poorly and if it's read quickly, it leads to comments like above. I believe the 10.4% of swingers is swingers of ALL ages, the numbers BELOW that are the numbers for older swingers.

    June 24, 2010 at 18:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Lily

    For Pete's sake, does this really surprise anyone? Let's see, promiscuous screwing around might get you a disease??? Who'd a thunk it??? STDs used to be rare, because people used to be taught self-control. Today people seem to think that life is all about gratifying every impulse they have, and they're paying the price. How about a return to the days when people didn't think their every desire was something they were entitled to?

    June 24, 2010 at 18:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Laura

      To which days are you referring, exactly? The days when men were given female (and sometimes male) slaves for personal pleasure? The days in the 80's when teen girls got pregnant regularly, yet everyone pretended it was a surprise? Or are you referring to the days when girls were married off at the ripe old age of 13, and left to die in childbirth while the husband was out picking his next wife? Men, at least, have ALWAYS has the leisure to screw what and when they wanted. And yes, the women were considered things, not humans. if you miss the good old days so much, go to Saudi and get your female circumcision.

      June 25, 2010 at 16:30 | Report abuse |
    • Laura

      And no, STD's were never rare. Think King George.

      June 25, 2010 at 16:32 | Report abuse |
  16. Granite101

    I can't be the only one that has noticed that the number of older people who are swingers is on the increase as well as the number of older people who have become addicted to pain pills and other drugs.

    People get tired of being a pillar of society, paying bills and behaving. As people age they wonder what all of this good behavior has brought them. They are reaching out for a little secret fun. Unfortunately, it costs them

    June 24, 2010 at 18:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Laura

      I doubt the percentage has increased, but if it has, maybe it's because people live longer. And of course you're right. Constantly being responsible is draining.

      June 25, 2010 at 16:34 | Report abuse |
  17. Susan

    5 percent in female prostitutes?? This whole study and its results is bizarre. Got to be something wrong in the methodology or data or ... something. Not at all credible.

    June 24, 2010 at 18:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Hangon

    Nasty. I've always kinda wondered about the old folks in the nursing home that get it on with random partners. Thinking about this topic is fairly nauseating.

    June 24, 2010 at 19:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Tard

    I cannot wait for you youngsters to age a bit.

    Us adults will be standing there, laughing so hard you'll think we are stroking out.

    See, when you are young and pretty and stupid, it's OK.
    But when you STAY stupid, it's just pathetic.

    June 24, 2010 at 19:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Laura

    Not A Swinger,

    The first set of data (the 10.4 vs 10 vs 14%) is showing that overall there isn't a higher risk due to the lifestyle. This clears up misconceptions that swingers on the whole are more likely to engage in risky behavior. As the article headline states, the differences emerge when you look at older swingers specifically.

    It's interesting that you don't worry about relative size of groups when looking at relatively small deviations, as in the first set of numbers, but are concerned about sample size for a difference of over 20%. For that to not be a significant finding, their sample size would have to be tiny, which it isn't. It says near the top that they collected data from nearly 9000 participants. We can assume about 10-11% were homosexual, as that's the rate worldwide. Even if only 1/20 reported being a "swinger" that would still be 450 participants in that group.

    However, if their hypothesis is correct and older adults are less likely to seek frequent exams the number of swingers in the study is likely to be underreported, since they were self-reports from clinics, meaning that the increased risk is likely even greater.

    June 24, 2010 at 19:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Jeff

    Ah, women are finally achieving equality in all areas.

    June 24, 2010 at 19:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. SwingOnThis

    Wow, what a hypothesis. Since older swingers have more unprotected sex, they have more STDs

    June 24, 2010 at 19:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Not quite 45

    The science isn't good, but at least they got to work in an article about swingers. 10.4 compared to 10.0? Really? Run for the hills! And how did the professionals end up with the 5% rate? That doesn't make any sense at all.

    June 24, 2010 at 19:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. swingthis

    I'm no swinger but I do take issue with your coining people over 45 as "older" – older than what? 44? What are people over 55? decrepit? what about 65+? Dead?
    ...and to Valerie: get a banana, you'd do better.

    June 24, 2010 at 19:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Clark1b

    self inflicted diseases ....

    the government wants to force fast food restaurants to limit the fat and calories in their meals, and force schools to stop offering sodas to prevent obesity in kids, the government raises taxes on tabacco products to reduce consumption .... etc.

    wonder when the government will pass a law mandating safe sex be practiced by those going to swingers' clubs, or perhaps develop a tax on those using multiple sex partners .....

    June 24, 2010 at 19:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Ellen

    I didn`t want to swing when I was young, and definitely don`t now that I am old. The only good sex is safe sex. Marriage means being true to one partner.

    June 24, 2010 at 19:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Joe

    In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

    June 24, 2010 at 20:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. A Patel

    The difference between 10 and 10.4 is about 4%. Technically speaking, 4% increase is not small at all, but since a lot of important statistical information is not provided, it's difficult to say if the difference of 4% is significant or not. I would love to know more about the original article. I iwill review that if I can get my hands on it and post a follow-up if I can remember.

    June 24, 2010 at 20:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Barry McD

    "To lower the risk but continue with their lifestyle, researchers recommend swingers be tested ...and practice safe sex...." Spoken like a true lib. Has it occured the simplest solution is to abstain and change the pathological lifestyle?

    June 24, 2010 at 20:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Donna

    So glad to learn that "older" is now considered 45+. I thought the article was going to be about seniors.

    June 24, 2010 at 20:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. PCPhil

    Gross. Just gross. When I think of "older people", I still think of the Greatest Generation. You people who are represented in this study are certainly a far cry from great, and your legacy is one of vile immorality and venereal funk. You're the Gross Generation!

    June 24, 2010 at 20:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Josh

    Aww c'mon Valerie, couples probably need something to spice it up after that long together. And it's better than having a clandestine affair 🙂

    June 24, 2010 at 20:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. cel

    somebody is getting more than they bargained for, swingers or not. I would have thought modern medical science would have wipred out STDs like these long ago. They can make a penis hard enough to work properly, they are working on a blue pill for women to increase libido and they haven't gotten rid of the diseases ? Cart before horse, perhaps ?

    June 24, 2010 at 20:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Paul

    As a 43 year old, i find it very insulting when the article states that the older population is "not as well educated about sexually transmitted diseases as the younger population". That is crap. I mean come on, we grew up and reached sexual maturity during the aids explosion. That scared most of us into safe sex and regular screenings. This study was a total waste of someone's money (probably john or susy q taxpayer).

    June 24, 2010 at 20:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Lloyd

    Maybe I am missing something here.

    "with 10.4 percent of swingers being infected. That's compared with [...] 10 percent in straight people who did not swing."

    How did the straight people get STDs if they aren't swinging?

    June 24, 2010 at 20:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Beth

    Millions of old American swinging couples huh? I guess we should look right and left at our neighbors, I for one, are not going to be eating the grandma next door's Xmas cookies anymore! UGH! I guess these over 45's may get AIDS and not be able to collect thier social security, apparently people have just too much time on thier hands. How about overcoming perversion and actually helping out the world with your spare time? What a gross fact and they talk about an irresponsible younger generation..PERVERTS!

    June 24, 2010 at 21:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. fireybuddha

    I resent being called "older folk" at the age of 46! Hasn't he heard that the 40's are the new 20's?!?

    And who says "older folks" aren't as educated? Good God, how difficult is it to know if you don't use a condom or have unprotected sex, you can get coodies? How could anyone in the Western world have missed that?

    June 24, 2010 at 21:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. I don't swing

    "the concern is that because older people are not as well educated about sexually transmitted diseases as their younger partners, they don't regularly practice safe sex or get regular screenings to detect infections."

    You've got to be kidding me. Just because you're over the age of 45 doesn't mean you're ignorant when it comes to safe sex. I'm willing to bet that most of these people know more than their children or grandchildren. I'd like to know where this data came from. Perhaps the 23-year-old who wrote the article?

    June 24, 2010 at 21:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. m

    These numbers do not seem reasonable. According to the CDC STD Surveillance tables, there were 1,210,523 cases of chlamydia and 336,742 cases of GC in reported in 2008. That works out to a combined total rate of 523 per 100,000 population or roughly 0.5%. Rates were highest amongst the young, and lowest amongst the elderly as to be expected.

    Total cases and rates by age for chlamydia are reported here:
    Total rate for 55-64 age group is 9.4 per 100,000 or 0.01%
    for GC, total cases and rates by age are reported here
    Total rate for 55-64 age group is 9.0 per 100,000 or 0.01%

    total GC + Chlamydia rates are 18.4 per 100,000 or 0.02%

    This is just such a tremendous difference from the 10% reported in the paper referred to above.

    Not having access to the original paper I can not say why there is such a large discrepancy, but being in the boomer age group myself, there is just not that much sex - unfortunately.

    June 24, 2010 at 21:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Harry Balls

    55 percent of the diagnosed! What does that mean? Why do they have to change the format of the results? Just say X% of swingers over 45 were infected, like in the previous paragraph. It's meaningless without knowing the percentage of the population that are swingers.

    June 24, 2010 at 21:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. horatio

    The 0.4 % difference apparently applies to "overall" rates, not the over-45s that are the subject of this article. The article suggests that the STD rate among over-45s is significantly influenced by "swinging." If this is not clear in this article, criticize its author, not the researchers whose work is being poorly presented.

    June 24, 2010 at 21:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Skeptic

    Actually, there is a different explanation for that.

    Older people tend to have more problems with erections, and putting on condom usually kills that erection. Since many older people had to choose either unsafe sex or no sex at all, they took their chances.

    There is also a logical explanation why gay men have the highest STD's. Unlike straight men who typically go without sex over long period of time because they can't find willing females, gay men have no problem finding each other – all horny, ready and willing, and may even have multiple sex partners in just one day. More exposures yield higher STD's.

    Swingers are just horny people that don't want to eat the same dish every day, so they got together and have a pot luck. Same scenario, more exposures yield higher STD's.

    June 24, 2010 at 21:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. prevail21

    Swinging all the way to the hospital. Urges and impulses to have unprotected sex. Too risky! Safe sex? Abstinence is the only safe sex besides a monogamous relationship within the institution of marriage.

    June 24, 2010 at 21:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. b3kor

    What the article doesn't show is the rate of STDs among OLDER adults who do not swing. To use a metaphor, the article doesn't show Fuji apples to Fuji apples, but Fuji apples to MacIntosh apples. Several studies have shown that older adults are less aware of the need and the means of protecting themselves during sex. This is likely due to different norms and concerns during their youth.

    June 24, 2010 at 21:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. syd

    hey valerie

    check back when you are "old" and still having sex!

    June 24, 2010 at 22:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. davidc

    This has been studied before in the state of Arizona in Assisted Living Facilities and Skilled Nursing Facilities. There are several papers available that provide plenty of proof that sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise among older adults in the United States. It has nothing to do with swinging but everything to do with a lack of education in the area of safe sex.

    June 24, 2010 at 22:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Susan

    To Valerie who said "Old+Swingers=GROSS." What an ignorant and immature comment to make. So when you're 45+ you're going to stop having sex because you think it's gross at this age. I doubt your husband (if you ever do marry with that attitude) is going to love that!

    Grow up and learn about life more so you can avoid making such childish comments.

    June 24, 2010 at 22:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Just Wondering

    It just seems bizarre to me that female PROSTITUTES have the lowest percentage of disease by far: "...10 percent in straight people who did not swing, and 5 percent in female prostitutes" So normal (non-swinging) adults are twice as likely to catch one of these STDs than someone that sleeps around professionally? It just doesn't seem like the type of ppl that resort to prostitution would be that careful, but hey what do i know?

    June 24, 2010 at 22:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. rob

    Valerie,you will be old too,sooner than you think.And I hope you remember this day when you said old folks having sex was gross.

    June 24, 2010 at 22:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. joenyc

    @valerie You will be old and GROSS one day too. And I know what you're thinking "I'm so young, and that's so far away. and it won't be me anyway".

    Well guess what, time flies, it's not as far away as you think, and it'll be you just like it's everyone else. You're not all that different from anyone...nobody is.

    Have a great wasted youth..... 😉

    June 24, 2010 at 22:38 | Report abuse | Reply
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