Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Safe Sex after 50 and Mature Women's Beliefs of Sexual Health

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Safe Sex after 50 and Mature Women's Beliefs of Sexual Health

Article excerpt

This study explores sexual health risk attitudes among women aged 50 and older. Focus group research found that women 50+ are aware of the risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), but are uncomfortable about seeking health information from their regular physician who may erroneously believe that they already possess the knowledge. Although they know the importance of condom use in avoiding STDs, they may avoid negotiating condom use with their partners in an effort to avoid conflict or rejection. The results highlight a need for greater focus on women 50+ who continue to pursue active sex lives.

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Health communication campaigns designed to reduce or prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV and AIDS, have largely been directed at those populations most susceptible to them. Generally, segments of the population identified as most at risk for contracting STDs are in the age categories from teens to middle adults. Therefore, it is not unusual to see STD awareness campaigns directed to these specific audiences. Although ongoing efforts to educate these age groups about sexual health vigilance are not misplaced, the exclusive focus on them may artificially reinforce a perception among health care providers and information specialists that sexual health is an issue which comes with an expiration date designated by age or stage in one's life.

In 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 25% (280,000 persons) of the population living with HIV was aged 50 or older, and diagnosed cases among this age group are predicted to rise (CDC 2008). Yet despite this trend, research that emphasizes this group's perceptions of their own sexual health risks as they age is lacking, thereby setting up the potential for a "senior epidemic" of STDs. Equally important is the fact that the medical community has been slow to recognize and diagnose STDs among older consumers in the past due, in part, to the stereotypes associated with sexual interest at older ages and the presumption that years lived is an accurate predictor of one's sexual health knowledge (Fletcher 1995; Schuerman 1994; Talashek, Tichy, and Epping 1990).

Although descriptors such as aged, old, mature and elderly are relative terms that have been used interchangeably, the focus of this investigation is the age group 50 and older. This study explores the risk perceptions and sexual health knowledge among sexually active women aged 50+. In doing so, the researchers hope to shed light on the issues identified by members of this group in an effort to identify sexual health information gaps that need to be addressed. This information will better serve the interests of the oft-overlooked mature population segments who continue to pursue active sex lives into their senior years. The paper proceeds with a profile of the "new" elderly as defined by the Baby Boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) and a discussion of the STD risk for older adults. From this, the research questions are derived, and themes that guide the study are defined. Following a report of the research method and findings, implications for health communication specialists and health care providers are discussed.

SHIFTING PERCEPTIONS OF THE NEW AGED

Stereotypic connotations of the aged in western culture conjure images of people suffering from senility, frailty, financial distress and loneliness (Blankenborough 2008; Robinson and Umphrey 2006). However, research on aging recognizes that eider status is more than a function of one's chronological age. Featherstone and Hepworth (1995) suggested "the idea of the elderly is not a sufficient label for all purposes ... and thus this group [should be] bifurcated into young old and old old." Similarly, Long (1998) proposed that the elderly be segmented into three discrete age bands that account for one's stage of elderliness: "young old" (aged 55 to 64), the "mature old" (aged 65 to 74) and the "old old" (aged 75 and older). …

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