The media blast continues over the Big News that seniors are still having sex. (At what age were we supposed to stop,and why?) I’m happy to see this media coverage help raise awareness, even though I marvel that it’s also raising eyebrows.
A very interesting story appears in the August 13, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report about a subject I’ve harped on all year — the fact that seniors in the dating world are often in denial about their risk for contracting STDs. “Sex Ed for Seniors: You Still Need Those Condoms: Sexually transmitted diseases stalk older singles, too” by Deborah Kotz makes this point:
With Viagra and Internet dating sites at their fingertips, a growing number of seniors are enjoying a renaissance between the sheets, but some are paying the piper, contracting sexually transmitted diseases. As HIV carriers live longer, the majority will be over age 50 by 2015, and even now about 15 percent of new infections occur in this age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other STDs, including herpes, chlamydia, and human papillomavirus, which is linked to cervical cancer, are also making the rounds. “While it’s a good thing that older people are more sexually active, they need to connect the dots, see that they’re at increased risk, and make sure they use condoms,” says Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Kotz discusses a University of Chicago study revealing that nearly 60 percent of unmarried women ages 58 to 93 said they didn’t use a condom the last time they had sex. An Ohio University study found that about 27 percent of HIV-infected men and 35 percent of HIV-infected women over 50 sometimes have sex without using condoms.
Kotz makes the excellent point that postmenopausal women may be particularly prone to getting infected with blood-borne diseases like HIV or chlamydia.
That’s because their thinner and more fragile vaginal lining can easily tear during penetration, allowing pathogens to enter the bloodstream. And new research indicates that older women are at risk of getting infected with HPV, which can give rise to genital warts or cervical cancer.
The message is this: If you’re dating and sexually active, please use condoms, whatever your age. Men complain to me that it makes sex less pleasurable, especially when erections are less reliable. Women insist that they’re not at risk and they would be embarrassed to insist on condoms. Haven’t we heard variations on these objections from youth? Isn’t this one area where we can learn from experience and our own good sense?