We are delighted to have been able to continue with our key research, alongside our partners in the UK and across Europe on barriers and facilitators around sexual health and wellbeing for over 45s.
Today we together released our qualitative findings from a series of semi-structured interviews and focus groups with 99 participants, informed by our previous survey of over 750 people over 45. With the most recent report focusing on people who also face one or more socioeconomic disadvantage.
Findings offer insight into the four key elements the SHIFT project is seeking to improve: access, knowledge and awareness, and destigmatising. While many points are true for the general over 45 population, emphasis changes for those who face the intersection of age and another social identity such as race, class and gender which may put them at a socioeconomic disadvantage. Overall, it is evident that a range of sexual health services and messaging are required to reflect the heterogeneity and personal preferences of the over 45 population and encourage engagement in services and improve their sexual health and wellbeing.
- Practical barriers to services include cost, inconvenient locations and limited appointment length and availability.
- Accessibility could be improved with increased signposting of services, and outreach into communities.
- A range of locations with both formal and informal environments would encourage over 45s to visit services.
- Social stigma is the most commonly cited, especially among BAME participants. This is followed by self-stigma, with feelings of embarrassment and shame, and stigma among healthcare professionals.
- Stigma remains one of the biggest barriers to engagement in sexual health services and information.
- Involving community leaders in sexual health interventions is essential to overcome cultural taboos.
- Sexual health messaging should focus on inclusivity and breaking stereotypes.
- There is a significant lack of knowledge amongst participants, notably symptoms of poor sexual health, and knowledge about where services are and what provision is available.
- Healthcare professionals should more training to allow them to comfortably talk to over 45s about sexual health, and enable them to consider the particular experiences and circumstance of their patient.
- Limited awareness about risks to sexual health may prevent help-seeking, and the practice of safe sex.
- Awareness is improved among cultures that openly discuss the subject of sexual health, and for those who have memories of the HIV/AIDS epidemic – particularly LGBTQ+ participants.
- It is important to educate over 45s about how sexual health and associated risks may vary according to social identity, for example ethnicity, sexual orientation, age and gender.
- COVID-19 has led some to become more aware of their own health, including sexual health.
These findings will feed directly into the next phase of the project, developing and piloting service models and delivering training.
Our SHIFT project partners are Kent County Council, Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust, East Sussex County Council, University of Chichester, Medway Council, SOA AIDS Nederland, Artesis Plantijn, Odisee Hogeschool, Sante Info Solidarite - Animation (SIS-Animation).
You can find the full set of research reports on the University of Chichester SHIFT project page.