Senior campers
Senior campers at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center. Photo by Nate Lavey
Text size
related tags

Dianne Matthew’s lecture series on sex education for the 55-and-older gated communities of Boca Raton and Delray Beach began a decade ago, but in the wake of a recently reported “epidemic” among seniors, it has acquired a more urgent tone.

“I use blatant language,” Matthew, a licensed clinical social worker affiliated with South Palm Beach County’s Ruth Rales Jewish Family Service, told the Forward. “They’re not 12-year-old virgins,” she said. “You should be able to say the words ‘vagina,’ ‘penis,’ ‘orgasm.’” Not to mention — though she did — one three-word phrase that had an even greater impact: Sexually. Transmitted. Diseases.

Several recent studies have shown an increase in STDs among older people for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the use of Viagra and similar sex-life-extending drugs.

Other factors include the lack of concern about pregnancy; naiveté in an age group that mostly predates school-based sex education; large numbers of long-married, one-partner-only widows and widowers, and the fact that many doctors fail to discuss sexual-risk conditions with older patients, assuming it to be unnecessary.

“I say to them, ‘You have to look out for yourself; you think because you can’t get pregnant, you don’t have to be careful,’” Matthew said. “I think, in general, most people are surprised [by the message]. They think it’s not going to happen to them. Most of the women were married to one man for 40 years. In their minds, STDs are for prostitutes.”

Read more on the Forward.