When dance instructor Joan Price of Sebastopol, Calif., met the love of her life in her line dancing class at the age of 57, she was already wise to the steps and spins of modern dating, especially when it came to sex. She had been dating for years following her divorce, mostly short-term relationships, and was always careful to use condoms in bed.
Price, author of Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty, says that when she and her now husband were ready to get intimate, she asked him point blank: "Shall I get the condoms or will you?"
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Talking openly about safe sex and a partner's past may be unfamiliar territory for the over-50 crowd. Many are finding themselves single after years of marriage. The last time they had to deal with meeting a partner they were more concerned with getting pregnant than catching a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Still, the sex life of the 50-plus set is alive and well. "Society's view of aging women as sexless is wrong, wrong, wrong," Price writes. "Many of us are having the best sex of our lives. We're the Love Generation. We practically invented sex."
No Time to Play Coy
At monthly gatherings called "Sex on the Porch," sex educator and coach Katherine Forsythe hosts an open forum for women 50 and older to discuss sexuality. She urges these women to ask their partners to prove they've been tested for STIs.
"Many of them say, 'I can't ask that,'" Forsythe says. "I ask them how they'll feel telling every sexual partner for the rest of your life you have HIV. These women have to realize it's a matter of protecting their most precious possession -- their bodies."
Forsythe wants to educate the generation who was taught good girls don't have to ask. "Good girls really will finish last," she says. "This is no time for coyness, pleasing, and unbartered trust."
She says she gives them the same message she’s taught teenagers in sex ed classes: "If you're going to play grown-up games, you have to play by grown-up rules. Today, that means a condom until you see the paperwork and have been monogamous for three months. No papers, no naked penis."
The Numbers Don't Lie
Even though safe sex for older adults doesn't garner much media attention, the risks are real An estimated 16% of new U.S. HIV/AIDS cases are among those age 50 and older, and 25% of people living with HIV/AIDS are over 50, according to the CDC.
Younger adults are seen as the highest risk group for HIV and STIs, so most messages in public health campaigns skew younger. But a number of sex education programs are now targeting older adults.