Last year for World AIDS Month I wrote a blog entitled “Seniors Get Infected, Too (Often)". I pointed to the growing incidence of HIV/AIDS among people over 50 and complained about the lack of outreach to them. Because these were new ideas, the piece drew a lot of comment. In last year’s piece, I was pretty pissed off at how few resources were aimed at safer sex education for older people because I knew that the underlying assumption was that we weren’t getting any. That those doling out the funds for developing educational programs figured that older people not only didn’t engage in risky sexual behavior, they probably didn’t engage in any sexual behavior.
It has taken a big scholarly European study to get the mainstream press to note this problem. The scientific journal “Sexually Transmitted Infections” published news of research demonstrating that STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) have doubled among older people in the last decade. The researchers blamed the lack of programs addressing this demographic.
So why is this happening? Here are four of the many assumptions keeping us from getting the attention around safer sex that we deserve:
1. People assume older people don’t bonk all that much.
The truth? As the sexual revolutionaries of the 60s enter their 60s, they are reinventing the ageing process and reject the mythologies about “shriveling and drying up.” After all, with the assistance of Viagra, lube, toys and most importantly experience and imagination, older people never have to stop getting it on.
2. Older people have been married for decades and therefore aren’t at risk.
The truth? Many people in long-term relationships sleep with other people – whether as part of an understanding with their partner or on the down-low. Many middle-age and older adults find themselves back in the dating pool due to losing a partner to separation, divorce or death. Lots of people never settled down, out of choice or not, and continue to play the field. Because of online dating, in which older people are heavy players, it’s much easier than ever before to make sexual connections.
3. Boomers grew up in the age of AIDS so they know all about it.
The truth? Some boomers were in fact heavily impacted by the pandemic and probably know the ABCs of safer sex as well, if not better than, most young people. But many other people over 50 think of condoms as a birth control device and assume, post-menopause, that rubbers are irrelevant. Besides, safer sex education needs to be repeated and repeated; lessons learned in the 1980s or 90s might not be automatically applied in retirement. And don’t forget all the other risk factors like sharing needles (whether illegal drugs or prescription medications).
4. Seniors and elders aren’t into talking about sex.
The truth? We boomers invented open talk about sex when we tried to find ways to protect our community during the worst of the AIDS crisis. To stay safe we had to talk about what we really – no, really – do in bed. So we brought a whole sexual language into the public sphere. But it’s younger people who seem to have a problem talking to and about sexually active seniors. Doctors, care workers, educators – many may be younger than their patients and clients and may be suffering the yuck factor (Not my mother/grandmother!) at the idea of old people pinching nipples and trying it doggie style.
You probably can add other counterproductive assumptions – send them to me – but it is worth keeping in mind how bad things are. Today the BBC said that AIDS is still killing 6,000 people per day in the world. Six thousand people every day. I’ve been talking about people 50+ because that’s a group I write about a lot, but things are dire for all folks whose lives are invaded by HIV/AIDS. One month each year does not a movement make, but it’s good to remind ourselves of the mess we’re in, especially as resources for all social needs are evaporating into this global depression.
The truth? Good sex as often as we want it is a very inexpensive high, a cheap thrill, a great way to take your mind off of all the crap. Do it – but do it safely!