One aspect of returning to dating late in life may pose problems for older adults: Sex invariably enters the picture.
Though most seniors have heard that with age comes lower levels of desire, lesser performance or a lack of lubrication, nobody ever warned us about hands falling asleep and legs cramping. But far more serious problems exist.
"Men may be particularly susceptible (to sexually transmitted diseases), if they're dating younger women who have had multiple partners or have used drugs," says Dr. Michelle Blodgett, director of the Counseling Center for Older Adults at Nova Southeastern University. "But older women back in the dating market may think, 'Maybe I'm behind the times if I don't go along with it (sex).' "
As for protection, Blodgett says women might think they're beyond child-bearing age and don't have to worry about it. But women must get educated before entering any sexual relationship.
"STDs are increasing in this age group across the board in (Pinellas), both in the gay community and the white female population," said Jeannine Mallory, public information officer for the Pinellas County Health Department.
"We encourage seniors to talk to their physicians about these things; it's a different world than when we went to high school. If they're embarrassed (to speak to a personal doctor), they can come to any of our five health centers. Patients can ask detailed questions of their doctors or at the clinics and get tests for HIV/AIDS and STDs. People also don't realize that hepatitis can spread through sex, and patients can get immunized against it.''
Nationally, Scott Bryan, spokesman for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, notes a stability in HIV and STD rates among older Americans the past few years:
"A recent analysis of HIV diagnoses found that, from 2001 to 2005, the rate declined 2 percent per year (for people) between the ages of 50 and 64 and the rate for STDs (including syphilis and gonorrhea) has remained stable between 2002 and 2006 in the 55 and older group," he said. "Individuals 50 and older accounted for only 16 percent of diagnoses in 2006."
Nevertheless, he added, "It is important that seniors get information and services to help protect them from infection. Many older Americans face unique prevention challenges, such as discomfort in discussing sexual behaviors with physicians and partners, or discomfort discussing condom use. It is also important for physicians to assess older patients' risk.