Sex Ed for Seniors: You Still Need Those Condoms

CDC reports that 15 percent of new HIV infections occur among those older than 50, a group that is expected to account for the majority of HIV patients by 2015. Experts say modern developments like Internet dating and erectile dysfunction medications are helping seniors stay sexually active longer. Therefore, "they need to ... see that they're at increased risk, and make sure they use condoms," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

That message may not be getting out, however. A University of Chicago survey found almost 60 percent of unmarried women ages 58-93 said they did not use a condom during their most recent intercourse. In an Ohio University study of HIV-infected people over age 50, 27 percent of men and 35 percent of women reported sometimes having sex without condoms.

Also contributing to the problem:

  • Physicians are often reluctant to discuss STDs with older patients.
  • The early symptoms of HIV can mimic problems associated with normal aging.
  • CDC data show higher death rates for older adults with AIDS, possibly due to complicating factors like diabetes and heart disease.
  • *The thinner vaginal walls of post-menopausal women can be more easily damaged during intercourse, facilitating infection with HIV and other STDs.

Some responses to HIV among seniors include:

  • CDC's latest guidelines recommend routine, voluntary HIV screening for all persons between 13 and 64. CDC says 50-70 percent of new infections are spread by those unaware they have the virus.
  • New York City officials are handing out condoms at more than 320 seniors centers and urging regular HIV testing for all older New Yorkers.
  • In south Florida, the Senior HIV Intervention Project is distributing condoms and safe-sex information at community centers, assisted-living facilities and grief groups.