Americans have a hard time talking openly and honestly about sex. When it comes to the sexual intimacy of older adults, it's a topic most would rather ignore. This week, Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon launched a new program designed to promote sexual health and education for the oldest generations in our society.
Today, thanks to modern medicine and healthier living, people can expect to live longer and better than any generation past. Perhaps it's still too new a concept that so many older adults are doing their thing, including having sex. We just don't talk about it.
But, many elders are sexually active. And the silence around the subject can lead to problems.
Davis:"We're experiencing a sharp uptick in gonorrhea and Chlamydia cases."
Jason Davis is with Lane County Health and Human Services. He and his colleagues in the public health sector are alarmed at the numbers of sexually transmitted infections across the board, but especially in the 65 to 84 year old populations.
Davis:"Sex is a great thing that we get to experience throughout our entire life. People are able to have sex older and older and older. Communicating about your sexual history and getting testing is not only for yourself and your own well being but the well being of your partners and there's a certain social responsibility that comes with that."
Davis speaks the public health message clearly:
Davis:"Talk about it. Just talk."
Sexual Awareness and Support for Seniors Initiative (or SASSI) is a locally created, one-of-a-kind sexual support program. Mary Gossart is Vice President of Education for Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon.
Gossart: "It's about time. Because we're all sexual beings from birth to death and often times the elders are ignored."
The SASSI campaign kicked off with trainings and workshops in Eugene for older adults and the professionals who work with them. Planned Parenthood invited Bill Taverner to lead them. He's director of the New Jersey-based Center for Family Life Education.
(sound of workshop)
During the discussions, Taverner doesn't skirt the issue of an increase in HIV-AIDS and other infections among older adults but…
Tavener: "I think too often it dominates the conversation. I think we're often a society that responds to scary messages and so talking about the rising rates of STD's among older adults is a lot easier than talking about sexual pleasure, talking about sexual expression and respecting people as the sexual beings that they are. I think that's a more challenging conversation. If we just talked about the risks, it would be a real easy workshop for everybody."
Taverner's talks include common attitudes older adults express about sexuality, both positive and negative. He's encouraging exploration of physical changes of growing older like menopause and erectile dysfunction. And practical techniques for examining attitudes within long term care facilities.
70 year old Jo Schechter says she's learning some helpful things about sexuality. The workshop also makes her appreciate her 76 year old partner.
Schechter: "The good thing for me, my boyfriend understands intimacy and sensitivity and tenderness and being in your body fully. Not just about having an orgasm. He knows that really well, which is unusual."
Bill Taverner will wrap up his time in Eugene Thursday afternoon at the Downtown Athletic Club Ballroom for high tea and a public presentation called, "Still Doing It: Talking about Sexuality and Aging."