People who came of age in the 1960s and ‘70s did so in an era of free love. Even the music blasting from the speakers inside those sweet street machines told them it was OK to have sex anytime, anywhere and with anyone.
Stephen Stills’ first solo hit in 1970 may have put it best: “If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.”
Now, it appears some of those “kids” weren’t taught much about such things as sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs. And if the health teacher did talk about them, apparently many were snoozing.
The good news ― baby boomers still love to make love. The bad news ― they’re getting STDs at alarming rates.
As adolescents, boomers used condoms mostly to prevent pregnancy, not to prevent nasty diseases like gonorrhea, chlamydia or syphilis. Some boomers now think if they didn’t get sick when they were younger, they need not be concerned today.
When it comes to HIV, very few, if any, baby boomers were educated about the disease, said Chris Partis, HIV prevention coordinator at Summit County, Ohio, Public Health. “And by the time HIV came along, most boomers were probably in a marriage or in a relationship.”
According to Summit County’s data, on average, 13 percent of the people who tested positive for HIV over the past five years in the region were over 50. That ranged from 6 percent in 2006 to 20 percent in 2010. Those statistics rival those for the 20- to 24-year-old age group.
Diseases like herpes, gonorrhea and chlamydia are far more common. Doctors must report cases of STDs, but thousands of people don’t visit physicians, so the statistics probably don’t reflect the actual numbers. Still, the Ohio Department of Health reported that statewide diagnosed cases of chlamydia, for instance, went from 41,583 in 2006 to 51,194 five years later.
Baby Boomers have used condoms mostly to prevent pregnancy, not to prevent nasty diseases. (Akron Beacon Journal/MCT)
In the baby boomer age group (47 to 65) and older, STDs can be anything from an annoyance to a real health concern.
“Syphilis can kill if left undiagnosed,” Partis said. “And untreated gonorrhea in women can affect their ovaries, fallopian tubes and cause ongoing problems.”
“People old enough to know better getting STDs? Sounds like people smoking and getting cancer,” said Tallmadge’s Barbara De-Leone, a member of the Beacon Journal’s baby-boomer readers group. “Perhaps my age group can’t give up on the ‘70s notion that if it feels good, do it, no matter the consequences.”
The death of a partner is one thing that can push men and women back into the dating scene. Another is divorce.
The National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University found that the divorce rate for boomers and older couples has more than doubled over the past three decades. And that’s only expected to rise.
More than one in four people who divorce today is older than 50. And that means a lot more people are seeking companionship, but sometimes they know little to nothing of a prospective lover’s past.
“We have communities now for those over 50 or 55. And many of the residents are without a spouse,” Partis noted. “If you throw things like Viagra in the mix ... what’s to stop people from being sexually active?
“We look at the positive things about it. But yet the thought that diseases are out there, even ones as serious as HIV, never enters the vast majority of people’s minds.”
During the past 18 months, Summit County Public Health has visited some local AMHA senior communities to discuss sexually transmitted diseases.
“What has amazed us is how interested and interactive the folks have been. They use this as an opening to talk to their kids and grandkids,” Partis said.
Others maintain that younger generations might be able to teach baby boomers a thing or two about STDs.
“We need to speak openly and frankly to our children and they need to be the same way with us. This is a new age, a new world and a new opportunity to communicate better with our families and each other,” said Wadsworth, Ohio’s Ken Weiner, another member of the newspaper’s boomer group.
While Partis doesn’t have proof, he suspects that a disturbing trend taking place in larger cities is also happening in the Akron area.
“We have young people who are addicted to drugs and need money for their habit. They don’t care about much else. They have figured out that senior citizens living in some of our big buildings get money at the beginning of each month. So they go through the buildings and offer sex for money,” Partis said.
“Not to be crass, but if some cute young thing comes up to an older person and suggests that they will perform a sex act for $20, some seniors aren’t going to say no. I think they may even be flattered.”
Enjoying sex as a person ages certainly isn’t new, but Partis thinks it’s a cultural thing with baby boomers.
”We’ve always been sexually active. We grew up with sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. And as long as the flesh is willing. ...”
Boomer group member Audrey Humphrey of Atwater, Ohio, noted that the motto for her generation was ”Make love, not war.”
”AIDS just appeared one day and life changed pretty fast,” she added. ”I really think that was when free sex slowed down. ... Most people started thinking about the consequences of not being careful.
”A lot of baby boomers lost good friends in the early years of the disease. And of course there were the ‘it will never happen to me’ boomers. We will miss them.”
So what should be done?
Wise baby boomers could help spread the word that their generation is not immune to STDs.
”As with everything, education is key,” offered boomer group member Kathy Sidaway of Bath, Ohio. ”Even the best sex on the planet isn’t worth disease.”
Certainly monogamy or abstinence are the best solutions. But short of that, if you are unfamiliar with your partner’s past, use condoms ― even if you don’t like it.
By Kim Hone-Mcmahan
(Akron Beacon Journal)
(MCT Information Services)