Condom Sense

Many seniors assume that we don’t get sexually transmitted infections and are not at risk for HIV. They’re dead wrong. Consider this:

  • About eleven per cent of all newly diagnosed HIV infections are in people older than fifty, and a quarter of those are older than sixty.
  • The risk of AIDS is increasing at twice the rate in people over fifty as compared to the increase in people under fifty.
  • Heterosexual HIV transmission in men over fifty is up ninety-four percent, and the rate has doubled in women since 1991.
  • An Ohio University study found that about twenty-seven percent of HIV-infected men and thirty-five percent of HIV-infected women over fifty sometimes have sex without using condoms.
  • Older women are particularly at risk for blood-borne diseases like HIV or chlamydia because their thinning vaginal lining and lack of lubrication lead to tearing during intercourse, permitting easy access to the bloodstream.

If you’re dating or in a non-monogamous relationship, the issue of safer sex needs to come up early. Some of my women readers write me that they feel uncomfortable asking a new partner to use a condom. They are often newly in the dating game after divorce or death of a spouse. “If I ask a man to use a condom, it sounds like I don’t trust him,” they say. “If I have them on hand myself, he’ll think I sleep around.”

My belief is that if you can’t talk about safer sex with someone, do you really want to invite that person inside your body? But I know it’s hard, especially if you’ve been in a long-term relationship and suddenly find yourself out in that scary world of dating, sex with new partners, and the risks that weren’t a part of our blazing youth.

The Condom Conversation needs to happen before the heat of passion has a chance to melt your resolve. When the sparks and kisses signal that sex is likely in your future, talk about barrier protection. Agree to be prepared when you’re ready for the next stage, whether that means next weekend, weeks from now, or in an hour.

In my single past, these approaches served me well:

  • “I always use condoms with a new partner to protect us both.”
  • “I’ll buy the condoms — do you prefer a special kind?
  • “Do you have condoms, or should we make a run to the store?”
  • “Your condoms or mine?”

What if your date refuses? I’ve had occasions when a man refused to use a condom, saying something like, “Sex with condoms just isn’t enjoyable.”
I would reply, “Is no sex more enjoyable?”

At this point, I knew the date was over, and I was glad to know in advance that he didn’t value my sexual health or his own. If he was willing to go to bed with me without protection, then he did that with his last partners, and they did it with their last partners, and so on.

Take a look at Sue Katz’s blog post titled “Seniors Get Infected, Too (Often)” for some startling information about the lack of HIV prevention education for older adults.


  1. Joan Price on September 29, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    Anonymous, it's just not true that condoms don't protect against skin-to-skin STI's. Which STI/STD's are not protected by condom use, are you saying? Obviously STI's can be transmitted orally, too — is that what you mean?

  2. Anonymous on September 29, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    If you're going to engage in sex outside a monogamous relationship, using condoms is definitely "safer." It is still not "safe." Most STD's/STI's are transferred skin to skin and unless you're doing the deed in a plastic bag, you're still running the risk of contracting one of the over 30 STD's. And those who may have an STD can still "look" clean. There's still a lot of risk involved. It's not like it used to be back in the 60's and

  3. C4bl3Fl4m3 on January 21, 2008 at 8:56 pm

    Something that’s interesting is that as my generation gets older, the generation that has come of sexual maturity in a time of AIDS, it’s unlikely that we will have this same problem when we get to be 50, 60 and beyond. We’re used to safer sex and “wrapping it up”, each time, every time. Even opposite sex couples who use hormonal methods know enough that if they ever got separated/divorced, they’d use condoms.

  4. rachael on January 19, 2008 at 1:39 am

    I love this post! My mom and I have come out with a product for women called Just In Case – condom compact for women. Looks like a makeup compact but has a secret compartment that holds two condoms. So women can carry their own protection beautifully and discreetly. Take a look at our site
    Keep up the great work!!

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