They have bathed us, fed us and changed our dirty diapers, but today they need our help. As our parents live single, experience life after divorce, survive the death of a spouse or even "step out" on or have an "understanding" about their dead-end marriage, most re-enter a dating world much more dangerous than the one they left.
According to Planned Parenthood Federation of America, baby boomers — people ages 44 to 64 years old — account for 27 percent of new HIV cases, and rising.
"Today's young people grew up during the HIV/AIDS pandemic and have used condoms since they first started having sex," explains ob-gyn Vanessa Cullins, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., the organization's vice president for medical affairs. "Baby boomers did not have to be so careful about sexually transmitted infections when they were younger. So not only do they need to relearn dating skills, but they need to learn condom-negotiation skills."
As a sex-savvy member of Gen X or Gen Y or a younger boomer, you have a responsibility to help keep your older loved ones safe. Whether your elders are looking for companionship, re-entering the dating scene, finding a "friend with benefits" or just plain cheating, help them do it safely — no matter what you think about it. School them about these five facts:
1. STDs, including HIV, are rampant in Black America: Gone are the days when it was okay to have sex without a condom or knowing your partner's STD (including HIV) status. Rates of HIV, as well as the incidence of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis (pdf), are highest in our community.
What to tell your elders: Nice people get STDs, including HIV/AIDS; they don't always have symptoms, and you can't tell who's infected by looking at them. So talk to your partner about safer sex, get STD- and HIV-tested, and insist that your partner use a condom unless you have actually seen his or her test results and you are certain that you are in a monogamous relationship. Still, it's best to wear protection and err on the side of protecting your health.
2. HIV/AIDS is not a gay men's disease: Black men and women represent only 13 percent of the population but account for 45 percent of new HIV infections; in addition, 64 percent of all women living with HIV/AIDS are Black.
What to tell your elders: In Black America, HIV/AIDS has spread beyond the historically high-risk groups and into the general population. According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation (pdf), heterosexual transmission and injection drug use account for a greater share of infections among Black men than among White men. Black women are also most likely to be infected through heterosexual transmission.
3. Condoms are not the enemy: Older men often shun condoms because they have more difficulty maintaining erections than younger men.
What to tell your elders: Instead of going without condoms, offer to accompany your partner to the doctor, who can help treat erectile dysfunction by prescribing medication, counseling or other treatments. Also explore the female condom, which "can be kept in place for vaginal or anal intercourse whether or not a man stays erect," says Dr. Cullins.
4. If you stray, you should use protection: Let's face it: Marital unfaithfulness is common. Even among people over age 60, the lifetime rate of infidelity is 28 percent for men and 15 percent for women, according to researchers from the University of Washington.
What to tell your elders: Take these precautions if you're being unfaithful or suspect infidelity in your relationship:
Use a condom with all partners to minimize everyone's risk.
Get STD- and HIV-tested, and see your partner's test results before condoms come off, and periodically thereafter.
Inform your spouse and other partners if you have any sexually transmitted diseases.
If you're the one getting cheated on, get tested annually, which is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation for people who have multiple partners (and technically, you do).
5. You should get tested at least once a year: According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 40 percent of Blacks report being HIV-tested within the past year, but that leaves 60 percent untested. And a New York Times article reports that 40 percent of older singles said they had never been tested for HIV, and a significant number didn't know their partners' sexual history.
What to tell your elders: "HIV-awareness campaigns have traditionally focused on men who have sex with men, people of reproductive age — ages 15 to 44 — and people who use intravenous drugs," says Dr. Cullins. But the CDC now recommends that all sexually active people ages 13 to 64 get tested each year.
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(Photo: Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT /Landov)