What we need now is a Viagra-like ad where the silver haired couple give each other the knowing grin, and then before they jump into the hot tub or wander down the beach, there’s a companion ad for Trojans. The message being, we don’t want to rain on your parade but don’t forget the raincoat. You know, the love glove. Best known to an older generation as rubbers.
Here’s a part of AIDS awareness that doesn’t get much focus when people advocate for safe sex. Protection is not just a necessity for the young and the restless. The old and the lusty are also vulnerable. In fact, one of the fastest growing HIV populations is seniors.
As a culture we’ve been slow to accept that seniors have sex. Probably many still prefer to think that older people only get action at the bingo table. But consider the happy faces on Judi Dench and Bill Nighy in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer in the Last Station. Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones in Hope Springs.
There’s no age limit on sex, depending on interest and the mechanics. And that is good news. But, as with all things to do with romance, there can be troubling aspects. As the number of single people aged 55 to 64 in the U.S. has increased, the rate of HIV infection in this group has also climbed.
People are living longer, having sex longer and more are getting sick from HIV.
Ginger Washburn is a Sonoma County AIDS activist who talks up safe sex to all ages, from high schools to retirement communities. Ginger drafted me and other friends to pass out condoms at our town square for an HIV campaign. For World AIDS Day Ginger organized a condom fashion show in which all the clothes were constructed from the familiar tube design.
Ginger said what puts seniors at risk is they think they’re immune. They don’t worry about getting pregnant anymore so why use birth control at their advanced age. Some are under the mistaken impression that if they don’t use drugs or aren’t gay they can’t be infected.
For a lot of people who have been away from the dating game for a long time, HIV is a new concern. Maybe they worried about herpes the last time they were out looking for love, but nothing that can make them as sick as HIV or kill them like AIDS.
Also, they come from a time when people didn’t talk a whole lot about sex before having it. But today, before they proceed with a new lover they need to be asking who’s been tested for HIV and thinking of using a condom, which can be a deflating prospect, with or without Viagra.
But it’s a necessary consideration says Ginger because an older man or woman can be infected with HIV and not know it. She’s known people whose depression, chronic fatigue, fevers, even dementia were misdiagnosed and then turned out to be HIV, which, if discovered in time, can be treated with medication.
The CDC says that of the more than 1.1 million people in the United States estimated to be living with HIV, approximately 20 percent are unaware they are infected.
That’s why the federal government body would like to see HIV testing become routine for all adolescents and adults which is sure to set off a howl by those who don’t want their elderly mother tested anymore than their teenager.
Grandma might think it a darned fine idea. When I was passing out condoms in downtown Sebastopol I gave one to an 80 year old neighbor who said, “Why, I haven’t seen one of those for years.” Then she smiled and slipped it in her pocket.