Sun, snowbirds and HIV - Metro US

Sun, snowbirds and HIV

New research out of the University of Waterloo indicates that Canadian snowbirds may be doing more than playing canasta when they winter in Florida.

Speaking at a recent AIDS conference in Toronto, gerontology researcher Katie Mairs said that people aged 50 and over account for a growing percentage of HIV cases in Florida, yet few older Canadians who winter in the state take precautions against sexually transmitted infections.

I’m not so surprised. This is a generation that didn’t grow up with AIDS. They weren’t raised on safer sex messages and probably never rolled a condom onto a banana in their lives.

Yet, here you’ve got a bunch of retired, elderly folk — many of whom are divorced or widowed and therefore single — with plenty of time on their hands, hanging out with each other in the warm, Florida sunshine. They don’t call them “active” retirement communities for nothing.

Unfortunately, in large part because our society prefers to think that sexuality drops off the face of the earth the moment you get a grey hair, the problem isn’t getting addressed.

Research has shown that safer sex education works best when targeted to specific at-risk populations. And even then, the results aren’t that great. According to a 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey, condom use among those aged 20-24 averages about 50-60 percent. And they’ve no doubt been rolling condoms onto bananas since puberty.

In order to address rising HIV rates among the elderly, we need to start by first admitting that old people have sex and may even be having it with multiple partners, as the University of Waterloo research indicates.

Then we need to start talking to them. Sex educators I know are trying to make inroads to these communities and some administrators in seniors’ homes and retirement communities are starting to recognize and address the issue.

But they still face resistance, both from administrations who don’t want to accept, much less address, the fact that their residents might be sexual; and from family members who’d rather not think about whether grandma or grandpa are still doing it, thank you very much.

According to Statistics Canada, the number of Canadians aged 55-64 jumped by 28 per cent in the five years prior to the 2006 census. With all these boomers about to enter their golden years, many of whom will no doubt be single and, yes, sexually active, we better start readjusting our attitudes if we don’t want to be dealing with a raging HIV epidemic among the blue-rinse set.

Something to think about today on World AIDS Day.

For more facts about HIV/AIDS in Canada, visit my Sexcetera blog at metronews.ca.

– Josey Vogels is a sex and relationship columnist and author of five books on the subjects. For more info, visit www.joseyvogels.com.

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