Earlier this week I took part in a webinar about older adults and HIV*. It was presented by the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America in New York State, and facilitated by Mark Brennan-Ing. It focused on positive men and women as they move past 50, as well as people who are diagnosed at age fifty or older – 11% of new diagnoses in New York State.
Mark noted “the Graying of AIDS” – in New York State, for example, 75% of of PLWHA are over 40. He also brought up the issue that society doesn’t generally discuss older people’s sexuality. We don’t talk about it in ways that respect an evolving sense of sexuality and connection and we don’t talk about sexual health education. Popular culture is saturated in youth sexuality, but not that of older people.
Additionally, doctors may not feel comfortable talking about it and people might not be comfortable asking. Mark shared some information from the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project that found doctors talk about sex to 38% of their male patients over 50. They talk to only 22% of women in the same age bracket. Erectile dysfunction drugs can be a conversation starter for men who feel they need them, but it doesn’t mean their doctors will talk about safe sex.
For post-menopausal women in new relationships, the absence of periods may seem like a ticket to condom-free sex. It might not occur to a woman who has used birth control her whole life to have a discussion with her doctor about safe sex, STI testing, or HIV prevention because it’s always been about preventing pregnancy. Older lesbians may figure STIs are more a concern for straight women.
The variation of sexual relationships brings up the question what is sex? Mark cited a Kinsey study about how people define sex. For 95% of people in the study, penile-vaginal penetration is sex. (Interestingly, 23% of men 65 and older said it’s not). A third of respondents said oral penetration is not sex and a fifth said anal penetration isn’t sex. For anal sex in particular this is a concern given that anal penetration for the receptive partner is high risk for STIs if you’re not having safe sex.
Whether it’s talked about at all, let alone comprehensively, sexuality over 50 isn’t getting its due. For those who are older, their “sex education” (also known as The Talk) was many years ago. Hitting age 50 doesn’t mean the end of sex, so this puts a huge number of people at risk for STIs, including HIV.
So what do those of us working in HIV education need to do? We must keep our eyes on the amazing range of people, young to old. Sex doesn’t stop, like a clock, at a certain age. We need to continue talking about, and developing resources to honour sexuality at all stages of life.
Note- For those on FaceBook, check out the “Age is Not A Condom” page.
This was posted on Friday, September 21st, 2012 at 1:34 am and is filed under aging, Body Health, Education & Resources, HIV and Aging, HIV Prevention, HIV progression, HIV stigma, HIV Transmission, menopause, perimenopause, Relationships, Research, sexual health, Spiritual and Emotional Health, Support . Feel free to respond, or trackback. Read our comments policy.