The notion that older people have sex lives isn’t as quaint or as easily dismissed as in years past, I believe. The age of Viagra® allows countless men to stand at attention and report for duty even as they qualify for the senior menu at most any chain restaurant. Then there’s the phenomenon of “cougars” – older women hooking up with younger guys – that has such cultural cache its spawned everything from television shows to niche online dating sites. The idea that “40 is the new 30” has been stretched to the point that even those in their sixth and seventh decades look, feel, and act “younger” than in generations past.
In May of this year, the American Association of Retired Persons released the most recent version of its survey on sexual and romantic behaviors of Americans ages 45 and older. The report finds that while nearly half of these folks who are dating have sex at least once a week (interestingly, only 36% of married respondents say they get busy weekly), a mere 20% of older singles say they use condoms regularly.
As I recall from my own sex ed classes in the Carter era, we talked at length about pregnancy prevention but very little time was spent on sexually transmitted infections (STIs). For fellows in my generation, the sexual horror scenario involved knocking a girl up, not that we might get the clap while doing so. I suspect the girls felt much the same way. Those of us conditioned to think of condoms primarily as birth control, then, might find it easy to ditch what we called our “rubber insurance policy” as anxieties over unwanted pregnancy fade.
Yet we remain at risk for sexually transmitted infections as we age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that in 2008, more than 14,000 cases of chlamydia were reported among those between the ages of 45-54 (up from approximately 9,200 cases in 2004). In the same time frame, reported cases of syphilis nearly doubled in this age group. Additionally, a study by the Gay Men’s Health Crisis projects that by 2015 over half of those living with HIV in the U.S. will be age 50 or older.
The sexual health of seniors – particularly around STIs – deserves attention. We need more gray hair and wrinkles on STI education brochures and websites!
Now, I’ll ask you to indulge me as I reminisce once more about my school days. Knowing we weren’t likely to bring up serious items for discussion in front of our peers, the basketball coach teaching our junior high sex ed class had us submit questions in writing. The queries were forwarded to a local physician who bravely volunteered to come to class the following week to talk about sex with a bunch of adolescent wise guys. I’ll never forget the old coach yelling at us to “Settle down and knock it off” as we howled when the bespecticled doctor said “Ok, let’s get started, our first one here says, uh, let’s see, ‘Is it dangerous to jack off?’”
Fred Wyand (aka Fredo on the ASHA Message Boards)
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