Older Women and Sex (Did You Know…?)

older-women-stock-imageCredit: Getty Images

Good morning (or afternoon, depending on your time zone)!

The cross-country relocation is done, and WSE HQ is in the process of officially transitioning to the west coast (while the business remains incorporated in Georgia). My household is still in the process of settling in, so I won’t be back in full swing here for a while yet. That said, I have a few minutes while sipping coffee, and have decided to type out a quick blog entry here.

(Heads up in advance — the following will contain some graphic language. Just so you’re warned right up front. Also, the focus of this entry is heteronormative — there are separate areas of discussion when we talk about sexuality outside of heteronormative, but this entry is specific to penis-in-vagina (PIV) [and oral/anal] sexual intercourse. My intent in this entry is not to exclude those areas of discussion; they’re just not the focus here.)

While my primary focus in research and writing is women between the ages of 15 and 24 years, and while my target audience (currently) is parents of teens (and younger kids), these are not my sole areas of focus or attention. I was reminded about other areas of specific focus in a conversation with a classmate, and his surprised response while I answered some questions that he was asking me about different aspects of my research.

The question that stood out to me was such a basic one, and his surprise at the answer reminded me that I need to write about this, since it’s an important topic. My classmate and I were discussing -in small part- some of my (business) plans for WSE with the relocation, and my noting that while my initial research (the stuff that culminated in my dissertation) was based in Georgia, I’ve since branched out beyond the Atlanta-metro. He was asking if I noted differences between STI transmission between people of different ethnic/national origins, and what my thoughts were about those differences. In responding to that question, I happened to mention that a secondary focus I have is women over age 55, because they are the second-highest demographic group affected by sexual infection/disease transmission. His surprise at that comment shifted the conversation, because he was suddenly very curious as to why that might be.

It’s almost amusing to me that most people with whom I’ve had this discussion with register surprise.

Almost.

In fact, it would be downright funny if it weren’t so very serious. If you go to the Google Machine and type “STIs [or STDs] Women Over 55,” some of the hit titles are rather entertaining, admittedly. But the practical reality is less funny. In fact, it’s a bit troubling. Note – I did not say (or suggest) that the fact is alarming. It isn’t alarming. It’s troubling. It’s cause for serious concern. But it’s not alarming. It’s an area, like so many other areas within sexuality education, that needs awareness raising in our population.

Most of the reasons for women over 55 years being the second-highest demographic group contracting STIs are fairly understandable on consideration. Sometimes the obvious isn’t…truth can hide in plain sight. Most of us who haven’t reached “middle age” (whatever that actually is…I’m going to say here approximately 50 years) don’t give a whole lot of thought to our parents (or grandparents) having sex. Some of the reasons are incredibly similar to the contributing factors of the highest demographic (women between 15 and 24 years).

Here, I’m only going to discuss some of the contributing factors…and I’m going to suggest strongly that there is a distinct need to detach shame (in its many forms) from sex.

First – women over 55 years of age still have sex. I know, this is probably shocking to some to even dare suggest that their grandma still enjoys gettin’ her groove on…but there it is. Seriously, get over it. I don’t wish to be blunt or harsh or anything…but the fact of older women fucking is not really all that shocking. Sex feels good…and women don’t stop enjoying having sex simply for the fact that they’re beyond a certain age that our society deems “too old” for anything related to intimacy and sexuality.

Second – women over 55 years of age are more likely to be single (whether divorced or widowed) than not. I’m not speculating on the various reasons for this, because those are fairly (seemingly) obvious. (Tiny sidenote here – married women over this age also contract STIs, and that is part of this discussion, too…but I am not addressing marital infidelity by either party here.)

Third – when you put the first and second reasons together…and consider the main reasons that are given for condom use in sex education as we understand it…the greater likelihood is that women beyond that “magic age” (55 years in this discussion) aren’t using barrier protection because in their perception, they can’t get pregnant. The thought of STIs isn’t on the surface…and there is definite shame attached to this basic idea.

What do I mean by shame in this context? Well…I’ll frame it this way. If I told you that my (now deceased) mother caught strep throat from a fellow resident at the assisted living facility where she lived, would you even bat an eye beyond a brief concern for her health and well-being? No, probably not. What if I told you, instead, that she thought she had contracted strep, but that it turned out to be chlamydia?

Would your reaction be the same? No…probably not…because in the latter case, you suddenly have to acknowledge that she…a woman over the age of 55 (and in her case, over 60) gave a blowjob to a man who had (undiagnosed) chlamydia and he passed that on to her. Suddenly, the topic gets a bit squicky. As though somehow, an older woman sucking a dick is “worse” than a younger woman doing so. Speaking for myself, there is absolutely nothing wrong or bad about fellatio…at all. So there is nothing wrong with older women engaging in it. Even your great-grandmother, frankly. Unpack that nonsense and recognize that any shame is a social standard that most of us do not actually think about until it surfaces in our own awareness.

Similarly to younger demographic groups, where women are diagnosed three times as frequently as their male counterparts, it is not that women are somehow “more promiscuous,” or that they have STIs in greater numbers. The operative word here is diagnosed. Many STIs (including chlamydia) are “silent,” meaning that there are not necessarily any discernible symptoms…and this is true for both women and men. Women generally are physically examined with greater frequency than men…at least with respect to genital health (think – annual pap and pelvic examinations, which are recommended yearly).

So if a woman beyond childbearing age engages in sex, she is less likely to use a condom because she can no longer get pregnant, which increases the likelihood of contracting an STI, since bodily fluid exchange is still involved in PIV/oral/anal sex. These physical details do not change by virtue of aging. Left untreated, STI transmission creates other health concerns in both women and men (of all ages), so the topic is one that needs more attention.

One of my longer-term goals is to work with practitioners and facilities that serve our older population (independent living facilities, assisted living facilities, long-term care facilities [aka nursing homes], geriatric physicians and et cetera), and work to increase awareness and education of the necessity of condom use and other barrier protection during sex, as well as more frequent health screenings for STIs (along with treatment).

So while my primary focus happens to be younger women and parents, in a long-term aim to educate toward decreasing STI transmission, that is not my sole focus.

And with that…Happy Hump Day!

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