Sex without condom use is unsafe at any age, but many seniors haven't gotten the message.
In a survey conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago, nearly 60 percent of unmarried women ages 58 to 93 said they did not require condom use by their partner the last time they had sex.
Even more disturbing are results from an Ohio University study that found approximately 27 percent of HIV-infected men and 35 percent of HIV-infected women over 50 sometimes have unprotected sex.
With Viagra and Internet dating sites literally at their fingertips, a growing number of seniors are enjoying a renaissance between the sheets; but some are paying dearly for it by contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
According to an article published in the August 15 - 31, 2007, issue of U.S. News, research findings by the Centers for Disease Control reveal that as HIV carriers live longer, the majority will be over age 50 by 2015.
Even now, about 15 percent of new infections occur in this age group.
Other STDs, including herpes, Chlamydia and human papillomavirus, which is linked to cervical cancer, are also making the rounds.
The University of Chicago survey also found that nearly half of the respondents did not talk to their doctors about their sex life, but felt their doctors should ask them about it.
In addition, researchers expressed concern that doctors may also misdiagnose early symptoms of HIV infection - fatigue, weakness and memory changes - as normal signs of aging.
The CDC issued new screening guidelines last September urging blood tests in all patients 13 to 70, but also stated screening is not effective in those over 65 because they cause only 2 percent of new infections.
Timothy Heckman, who coauthored the Ohio University study, disagrees and points out the CDC's own data shows higher death rates in older adults diagnosed with full-blown AIDS - possibly because of complicating factors such as diabetes, heart disease or an aging immune system.
Moreover, postmenopausal women may be particularly prone to getting infected with blood-borne diseases like HIV or Chlamydia because their thinner, more fragile vaginal lining can easily tear during penetration, thus allowing pathogens to enter the bloodstream.
While it is a good thing that older people are more sexually active than ever before - a "healthy" sex life fosters mental and physical health - it is equally important to connect the dots and see that an active sex life puts seniors at increased risk.
Please, be responsible and remember that sex without condoms is unsafe at any age.
Peggy Nolen is a licensed professional counselor. She specializes in recovery from traumatic experience, depression, anxiety and problems with drugs and alcohol. She can be reached at (770) 314-5924.