Friday, December 2, 2011

HIV Does Not Discriminate

Let's face it, sex never gets old. Turning 50 does not mean sex life automatically stops. For a long time stigma around age and sex has shaped how many people feel; discussions about aging and sex have been behind closed doors. This stigma contributes to how persons in the US and Europe see the increase of newly HIV infected older adults and seniors. Studies show that many people over age 50 do not use condoms. They seem to ignore or be unconcerned about HIV and AIDS. At the moment, the 50 years and older population is the fastest growing population in Europe and the US. In the year 2000, approximately 605 million people were 60 years or older. By 2050 that number is expected to be close to 2 billion. This is very large group of people. Why should this group be ignorant and excluded from the fight against HIV/AIDS.

What can we do to make older adults realize they are at risk? How do we get older adults to get tested for HIV? How can we change the general view on aging and sex?

To solve this problem we need to attack the problem from different angles. I believe popular culture is encouraging a slow change in the image of older adults and seniors. More TV shows and films portray mature women and men living a happy life including sex. Pop culture has started to show more dimensions of people over 50. This development will help change the view younger people have about aging and sex. It may also serve as a form of identification for older adults, helping them to be more open and comfortable about sex and their sexuality.

However, health care systems must take more responsibility when it comes to older adults and their sex lives. This is a good place to start dealing with the taboo around sex and age. Older adults and seniors may not feel comfortable talking about their sex lives with their doctors, a holdover from their earlier experiences when talking about sex was something one did not didn't do. Sexual activity was a very private matter rather than the sex education that is taught in schools today.

Today, doctors should ask their patients about their sexual life and if they are protecting themselves against infection. Since signs of HIV/AIDS can be the same aches of normal co-morbidities of aging, it is important that doctors talk to all their patients about risky sexual behaviors and encourage them to get tested for HIV.

Another important part in making older adults and seniors aware of the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases is to create HIV/AIDS campaigns that specifically target older people. Most campaigns target young people. By not including the older population in these campaigns, organizers are reinforcing existing stereotypes around aging and sex. These campaigns can serve several purposes, not only prevention and awareness, but also encouraging people to know their HIV status by getting tested.

These are not impossible goals. It is about time we stop thinking that HIV/AIDS is a “young person’s disease.” HIV does not discriminate. No one who has sex is safe, no matter what gender you have or what year you were born.

Sanna Klemetti