€2.5 million for project tackling sexual health in the over-45s

Project links 11 organizations across the South East of England, France, Belgium and the Netherlands

A European project involving academics from the University of Chichester, has received €2.5 million from the EU Interreg 2Seas programme (co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and part of a wider €4.2 million partnership) to help tackle the rise in sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) in the over-45s.

The project is called SHIFT, and according to those involved its aim is to get the over-45s engaged and talking about sexual health. They say that by doing this, the over-45s will benefit from a greater understanding of the issue and access to services. They will also be better placed to continue to look after their sexual health into middle age and beyond.

SHIFT comes at a time when 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).

Studies in and beyond Europe (such as 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 with one or more socio-economic disadvantages, 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 appropriate services.

SHIFT will link 11 organisations across the South East of England, France, Belgium and The Netherlands, including the University of Chichester. It 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. The project will 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 the target age group.

Dr Ruth Lowry, Reader in the Psychology of Active Living at the University of Chichester, is leading the evaluation of the SHIFT project. She explained: “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 across the 2Seas area.”

She added: “A sexual health and wellbeing model to engage with people aged 45+ 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 amongst this group. In addition, a 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.”

Dr Rosana Pacella, Head of Research at the University of Chichester, commented: “This project has huge potential, especially given our ageing demographic and the fact that we are living longer. SHIFT is a good example of the high impact research and practical projects we are championing at Chichester, which underpin a commitment to health and social equality.”

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