Chinese ‘massage’ parlours are being blamed for a rising trend in older men visiting the GU Clinic with infections contracted as a result of having unprotected sex.

Dr Valeska Padovese, who runs the clinic at Mater Dei Hospital, told The Sunday Times of Malta that towards the end of last year she had noticed a new trend of older clients carrying herpes and genital warts.

These clients, who were in their 60s and 70s, were normally married or divorced men who confided they had attended one of the numerous massage parlours sprouting across the island.

Police have already raised concerns that a substantial percentage of massage parlours are serving as a front for prostitution; a situation further supported by figures released in Parliament last November showing that six of 11 arrested foreign pimps were Chinese.

Dr Padovese raised the matter with Health Parliamentary Secretary Chris Fearne and it was decided to start carefully monitoring this phenomenon.

In January seven men over 55 have turned up at the clinic with STIs – the average age of clients is 25 to 35, so they stood out – and although the numbers are not alarming, Dr Padovese is convinced this is “just the tip of the iceberg”.

“These men are usually quite embarrassed and ashamed to have contracted an STI at their age. Most of them are not going to get themselves checked and only do so if they develop a problem,” she said. When Dr Padovese quizzes them about their sexual encounters, the majority said they had unprotected sex at Chinese massage parlours.

“While I have to stress that there are legitimate massage parlours, there are those offering unprotected sex and exposing themselves and their clients to infections,” she said.

“There have also been cases where these men mentioned having sex with women at gentlemen’s clubs, and although protection is normally used, they would have contracted an STI through a burst condom.”

Dr Padovese advised against unprotected sex as the first step to controlling this new phenomenon, something the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Directorate is emphasising and has stepped up its campaign on the perils of unprotected sex

When contacted, Mr Fearne said that in January he had asked the clinic to start collecting data after Dr Padovese started noticing a number of cases of STIs associated with unprotected sex with foreign nationals. “The data will allow us to take evidence-based decisions. While ensuring patient confidentiality, if the evidence we gather warrants, we will involve the police and screen all persons involved,” he added.

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