A Wake-Up Call on Safe Sex

Article excerpt

After giving hundreds of public speeches and scores of media interviews over about a dozen years, I still wonder whether anyone is listening to my pleas for HIV prevention programs for older adults. I am continually amazed by the response of the general population, even healthcare and social service providers: "Old people at risk? But this is a sexually transmitted disease."

Wake up, everybody! Statistics show that, yes, aging individuals remain sexual beings into their 6os and 705, perhaps longer. Midlife and older people can be at the same risk for HIV infection as their younger counterparts, especially if they aren't educated about transmission and prevention of sexually transmitted disease (STD).

I often tell the tale of my encounter in a hospital pre-op room, where I was awaiting minor surgery some years ago, with a young anesthesiologist who was questioning me about drug allergies. Suddenly, he asked, "How do you respond to blood transfusions?" Confused, I answered, "I don't know, I've never had one." "But you have HIV," he countered.

"Well, this old lady got HIV through sex," I corrected him. "So, there."

Indeed, my HIV infection, at age 50 (two years after my 24-year marriage ended in divorce in 1983), came through unprotected heterosexual contact with a man who had been a good friend my entire adult life. Now, I remind everyone, "You never know the sexual history of anybody but yourself. Take precautions."


It was to put an old, wrinkled, female face on the HIV/AIDS epidemic that I began to speak out in 1995, telling my story as proof that anyone can contract this virus-not because of who you are, or even how old you are, but because of what you do or don't do in regard to preventing transmission. …