When I learned that boomers should be tested for Hepatitis C, because we could have been exposed to contaminated blood before screening procedures were enforced, in 1992, I made an appointment to get the simple blood test. Prior to having my blood taken, the nurse told me that my doctor also ordered a STD panel (for sexually transmitted diseases), which means I’d be tested for HIV, syphilis and herpes, among other diseases. “That’s crazy,” I told the nurse. “Forget all that.” Then I paused, and said, “Oh, go ahead and do the whole panel.”
I Googled “boomers and STDs” as soon I got back to my desk, and one of the first articles I read appeared in Psychology Today, a highly-respected publication that turns 50 next year. “According to the Center for Disease Control, among our senior citizen population sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are spreading like wildfire. Since 2007, incidence of syphilis among seniors is up by 52 percent, with chlamydia up 32 percent. And this isn’t merely a phenomenon in the United States, as several recent British studies have produced similar results. So apparently the hippy generation has decided to dust off its slightly musty mantra: If it feels good, do it,” the article explained.
Many divorced or widowed boomers enjoy sex with multiple partners, and fail to ask them to use condoms when pregnancy isn’t an issue. And those of us who’ve exclusively been involved with one man for the last one, two or three decades often fail to realize that we could have contracted an infectious disease from men with whom we were sexually active before we met our long-term partners. Believe it or not, viruses like Hep C and syphilis can live in our bodies FOR DECADES before advancing to their final destructive stages, I also learned.
I am a perfect example of both the women I’ve described above. After having a total hysterectomy in 1991, I stopped worrying about getting pregnant. Although I was sexually–and exclusively–involved with Edgar at the time, I failed to think about the women with whom Edgar had been involved before we met (not the mention the ones with whom he had been involved during our relationship, I later learned!) After Edgar died in 2000, and before I met David in 2002, I had sex with about four men. While all of them (like Edgar) were clean cut, successful men, that surely didn’t preclude them from having infectious sexual diseases. But I never, for a moment, thought about that!
Like millions of other boomers, I was pathetically undereducated about STDs on every level (signs, symptoms, etc.) At one point, during my teenage years, I thought a woman could get pregnant from kissing or from sitting on unwashed toilet seats. I swear (even though I shouldn’t admit that!) Hygiene education in the sixties covered subjects such as washing your hands before dinner. Who ever heard the term “sexual hygiene.”?????
And, the subject of sexual hygiene includes much more than taking precautions during intercourse. It covers subjects including the proper way to cleanse and maintain the sexual health of your vaginal area.
Well, it’s never too late to learn, and act. For those of you who are on Medicare, your Part B medical insurance entitles you to free STD screenings once every 12 months. If you’re south of 65, be sure to get tested if you or your partner have been intimate with anyone else, even if it was 30 years ago. I am dead serious.
And, no matter what age you are, take care of your vaginal tissue, starting in perimenopause.