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Not Your Grandma's Condoms

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.

Yet these are the rationalizations that people use. I've personally heard from both men and women over 50: "He [I] will lose an erection if he [I] put a condom on." Now I am sympathetic to that one—men's erections get particularly tricky as they age—but even if a condom has a certain deflating effect, I challenge men (or women with a partner who has performance issues) to seek a condom solution rather than a condom evasion. Most single older men and their partners probably haven't looked at condoms for about 40 years—during which they've gotten better and sexier.

There really are new, super thin, and not-so-tight condoms on the market these days. The thinner condoms balloon slightly over the penis, with a layer of lubricant, and then there's an outer thin skin that makes sure that sperm can't leak out. Men tell me they feel great and are very sexy and effective ... and besides all that, they are not optional until you are monogamous—and so is your partner.

Want a more adventuresome condom? Manufacturers are so clever these days, knowing their clients clamor for glow-in-the-dark condoms to spice up dark, cold nights. Not into the glow? Pick your favorite flavor—mint, banana, orange, strawberry, chocolate, grape, etc.—or pick the ever-handy sampler pack to make both of you happy. Still not impressed? Try condoms with vibrating rings—some one-sided for her pleasure, some two-sided to double the pleasure.

So singles, listen up: Show how cool you are by coming prepared. To use a phrase coined by Gen Xers, "No glove, no love." Carry condoms as a mark of your sexual maturity and as proof of your commitment to your own and your partner's health. I don't know about you, but I think that's a very big turn-on.