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Not Your Grandma's Condoms

Naked Truth: Condoms & STDs

— Deborah Gilbert/Getty Images

The first finding that struck me in the new AARP sex study is the reminder that, once again, we do not always grow wiser or more disciplined just because we are older. Sometimes we seem to be no more careful than our children or grandchildren—and to be just as capable of convincing ourselves that reality is what we want it to be.

Take the case of condom use. The denial concerning condoms among single people over 50 seems to be that since we're not generally at risk for pregnancies and we're not high-risk for disease, then we don't have to use latex products. This fantasy works fine until we become the not-so-proud owner of a sexually transmitted infection, which—as it turns out—does happen.

Five percent of the 1,670 men and women in our study have been diagnosed with HPV (human papillomavirus, including genital warts) and gonorrhea (7 percent of the men, 2 percent of the women), and 3 percent of both men and women had doctors tell them they had herpes. There was a similar breakdown (5 percent of men and 2 percent of women) who had contracted hepatitis, and 1 percent had the shocking experience of being told they had HIV/AIDS, with the same percentage contracting syphilis. Less dangerous news, but more common and certainly unpleasant, is that 35 percent of women in our survey reported at least one bout with vaginitis (which includes yeast infections).

Granted, with the exception of vaginitis, the percentages were low—but you'll notice that a small chance is not no chance. Everyone who had one of these diseases picked it up from someone else. How did that happen?  For starters, by not regularly using a condom.

The study looked at homosexual and heterosexual single people who had intercourse at least once a month during the past six months and found that just one in five sexually active singles reported using a condom regularly and only 12 percent of the men and 32 percent of women said they used one every time. The rest of the time, I guess, they were just swept away, didn't have one handy, were insulted at being asked, didn't want to reduce skin contact, or couldn't perform with one on.

None of these are good reasons.

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