Look around the next time you visit your mother in her retirement community or join the bridge game at your father’s assisted living facility. Chances are good that the hallmate on your mother’s floor or the bridge partner across the table from your father could be a future sex partner.
That’s right. According to the 2010 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, “many older adults continue to have active pleasurable sex lives, reporting a range of different behaviors and partner types.” That is the good news. The downside: Adults over the age of 40 have the lowest rates of condom use, and recent reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show rapid increases in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among older people. Of even greater concern, the CDC reports individuals over 50 now represent almost one-fourth of all people with HIV/AIDS in the United States.
It is no surprise that many older men and women are looking for and finding love in the close quarters of retirement villages and other group settings. They just need to do it safely. Many older adults, who spent most of their lives in monogamous relationships, may not even be aware of the dangers of unprotected sex. While young adults are over-saturated with education and prevention messages about STDs, very few if any of those messages are targeted to seniors. And we all know older people are less likely to talk about their sex lives with doctors.
Clearly, there is an information gap that must be filled. Health care professionals, counselors and social workers have a responsibility to talk with seniors about safe sex and the need to use protection. As an added precaution, facilities staff members may want to consider making condoms available to residents.
It is reassuring to know that the desire for love, affection and intimacy does not wane in old age. But with that desire should come a healthy dose of reality: Even seniors must choose their partners carefully. So when you sit down to have the sex talk with your teens, you may want to consider inviting the senior in your life.