Navigating new sexual partnerships in midlife: a socioecological perspective on factors shaping STI risk perceptions and practices

Lewis, R. , Mitchell, K. R. , Mercer, C. H., Datta, J., Jones, K. and Wellings, K. (2020) Navigating new sexual partnerships in midlife: a socioecological perspective on factors shaping STI risk perceptions and practices. Sexually Transmitted Infections, 96(4), pp. 238-245. (doi: 10.1136/sextrans-2019-054205) (PMID:32041738) (PMCID:PMC7279207)

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Abstract

Objective: Despite increases in STIs among those over 40, little is known about the social context of STI transmission among people experiencing relationship transition in midlife, and few sexual health promotion initiatives are targeted at this group. This study sought to identify factors shaping STI risk perceptions and practices among midlife individuals either contemplating or having sex with new partners following the end of a long-term relationship. Methods: Participants were purposively selected from respondents to Britain’s third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, using three eligibility criteria: aged 40–59, reported experience of the end of a marital or cohabiting relationship with an opposite-sex partner in the past 5 years, and willingness to participate in a qualitative interview. Qualitative data were generated via face-to-face interviews with 10 women and 9 men and analysed inductively using thematic analysis, with themes then organised using a socioecological framework. Results: Participants’ accounts of new sexual partnerships in midlife indicate that STI risk perceptions and practices are shaped by factors operating at multiple levels across the socioecological arena (individual, partnership, peers and communities, societal). Constraints on, and resources for, the navigation of sexual safety include self-perceived STI risk rooted in past rather than present circumstances; legacies of mistrust within former relationships; intersecting gender-age dynamics in negotiation of risk prevention strategies with new partners; peers and younger relatives’ influences on understandings of sexual risk and safety; postrelationship change in social networks that increase or mitigate vulnerability to sexual risk; age-related barriers to accessing condoms; and disconnection from safer sex messaging and services culturally coded as for the young. Conclusions: Improving sexual health among midlife adults requires age-sensitive interventions designed to address multilevel constraints, and harness positive influences, on the navigation of sexual safety at this stage of life.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:Funding: This work was supported by grants from the Medical Research Council (G0701757) and the Wellcome Trust (084840), with contributions from the Economic and Social Research Council and the Department of Health. Since October 2017, RL has been supported by the UK Medical Research Council (grant MC_ UU_12017/11) and the Chief Scientist Office (grant SPHSU11). Since September 2015, KM has been supported by the UK Medical Research Council (grant MC_ UU_12017/11) and the Chief Scientist Office (grant SPHSU11).
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Mitchell, Professor Kirstin and Lewis, Dr Ruth
Authors: Lewis, R., Mitchell, K. R., Mercer, C. H., Datta, J., Jones, K., and Wellings, K.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Health and Wellbeing > MRC/CSO SPHSU
Journal Name:Sexually Transmitted Infections
Publisher:BMJ Publishing Group
ISSN:1368-4973
ISSN (Online):1472-3263
Published Online:10 February 2020
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2020 The Authors
First Published:First published in Sexually Transmitted Infections 96(4): 238-245
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons license

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
MC_UU_12017/11
SPHSU11