Sex & The Senior Citizen: It’s Never Too Late For Sex Education

Sex education for our youth is a no-brainer when it comes to teaching teens how to navigate sex, their changing bodies and dating for the first time.


But teens are not the only group that may need some guidance in life’s sexual journey, and this is why more and more nursing homes, assisted living facilities and senior centers are mixing in conversations about condoms and sex education with the typical discussions of Social Security and Medicare.

Here’s a newsflash: Older people are having sex, and are becoming increasingly more open about wanting to enjoy it. But with pleasure comes complications. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), STDs are more rampant than they once were among our elders.  Chlamydia and Syphilis cases among adults age 45 to 64 tripled between 2000 and 2010.  Also, areas of the country that are more densely populated by retirees are seeing STD/STI rates rise dramatically.

[Read more about the Increase In STD Infections Among The Elderly]

Add disease to the list of other challenges – learning how to work with an aging body, navigating a romantic realm that now includes online dating and sex toys – and suddenly it’s a whole new world for seniors.

Prior generations did not grow up with the same comprehensive sex education offered today in most schools; these men and women were at least in their 40s and 50s when AIDS appeared on the scene, and the subject was so taboo decades ago, the idea of openly discussing sex at all was basically unthinkable.

Dr. Susan Kegeles, co-director for the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California-San Francisco, said people are often uncomfortable talking about sexuality; discussing the sexual proclivities of the elderly is even harder.

While the prevalence of sexual activity decreases with age, men and women still have sex well into their 80s and 90s, according to a study last year in the New England Journal of Medicine. But as more people divorce now, the chance of contracting diseases through multiple partners increases.

What’s more shocking, a small survey conducted by University of Chicago researchers showed that nearly 60 percent of unmarried women ages 58 to 93 said they didn’t use a condom the last time they had sex.

Researchers believe doctors, unwilling to broach the topic of STDs, may be partly to blame. The University of Chicago survey found that nearly half of the respondents didn’t talk to their doctors about their sex life. “Older women think doctors should ask them about it but won’t initiate the discussion themselves,” says study author Stacy Lindau.

Raising awareness. New HIV screening recommendations issued by the CDC last September may mitigate the problem. The agency urged doctors to do voluntary blood tests in all patients ages 13 to 64 in order to prevent the 50 to 70 percent of new infections spread by those who are unaware they have the virus. It says screening isn’t cost effective in those over 65 because they cause just 2 percent of new infections.

Postmenopausal women, moreover, may be particularly prone to getting infected with bloodborne diseases like HIV or chlamydia in the first place. That’s because their thinner and more fragile vaginal lining can easily tear during penetration, allowing pathogens to enter the bloodstream. New research indicates that older women are at risk of getting infected with HPV, which can give rise to genital warts or cervical cancer.

Perhaps the most important first step, public health officials believe, is simply making seniors aware of the risks. By increasing accessibility to informative sexual education classes in places where elderly people live, will bring this once-taboo, and sometimes uncomfortable subject, out into the forefront.

“I think as seniors get older, they need a lot more information,” said Larry Saltman, 73, of San Jose, California, “because we’re not dead yet.” Saltman was among the seniors who attended a “Sexuality and Aging” seminar sponsored by the San Jose Office on Aging.

“Sexuality is not just for the young or the pretty or for penises working perfectly,”  Barsky-Ex, who led the seminar, said. “It’s for everybody.”

[Source – Chicago Tribune / Mercury News]


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