Letters to the Editor

Seniors and sex: There’s more to learn

Here’s an interesting twist on sexuality education: Sex ed for seniors.

Senior citizens, that is. Just who exactly is a “senior” citizen? You can decide when you’re ready for that honor. However, do read on for interesting and startling facts.

Last year, the Center for Disease Control found that 15 percent of new HIV infections occur in folks ages 50 and above. The CDC expects that by 2015, people over age 50 will account for more than half of all those infected with HIV, due to medical interventions that prolong the lifespan of those infected. Furthermore, with Viagra and other drugs to treat erectile dysfunction, people are staying sexually active longer.

Health workers can misdiagnose HIV/AIDS because the symptoms of weight loss, fatigue and dementia are also symptoms of other diseases affecting older adults, such as Alzheimer’s. For women, hot flashes, night sweats and depression are assumed to be symptoms of menopause. Misdiagnosis means that these people miss out on the benefits of early treatment that can help them live longer. And, many health care providers just don’t associate the risk of HIV/AIDS with older adults because of an erroneous assumption that this population is not sexually active.

Another concern is that an Ohio University study found that one-third of sexually active older adults who are infected with HIV are having unprotected sex. One woman who became unknowingly infected at age 56 has started a group called HIV Wisdom for Older Women (www.hivwisdom.org). Even though the National Council on Aging reports that nine out of 10 respondents are looking for a romantic partner with “high moral character,” the reality is that one-third of sexually active older adults are engaging in risky behavior that is spreading HIV among this population.

Several groups realized there is a need for sexuality education among senior citizens. People age 50 and older did not have access to comprehensive sexuality education that is available today — though you know by now that I believe it is not nearly available enough. The research indicates that people are thinking of condoms and other barrier methods as birth control, which they no longer need. The concept of using a condom every time for STD prevention is a new and foreign one to many older adults.

And so faithful readers, keep in mind that you may need to have some chats with your parents about sex. At least encourage health care providers to continue to screen for sexually transmitted diseases in older adults. No matter who you are, how old you are or how experienced you are, it still remains true that if you engage in risky sexual behaviors such as intercourse with another person, you are essentially having sex with every person that person has had sex with. Ever. So be wise. If you are sexually active at any age, use a condom, get tested regularly and most importantly, get yourself educated.

Amy Johnson, MSW, is a personal life and parent coach in Federal Way. Contact:

comments@diligentjoy.com.

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