As an older person, you are likely to have lots of relationship smarts – and you still may feel awkward or embarrassed to talk about safer sex with a partner before you actually have sex. Older folks have rapidly increasing rates of sexually transmitted infections – chlamydia and syphilis rates for people over 55 have increased more than 50% in recent years. You may also be surprised to learn that a quarter of people living with HIV/AIDS are over the age of 50.
So if you are asking yourself, “Do I really have to have this conversation?” the answer is, yes, you do. While some discomfort may be inevitable, if you are really dreading talking to your partner, ask yourself why. Is it possible that you haven’t yet built up a trusting relationship, and perhaps it would be a good idea to wait a while to have sex? Are you just out of practice? Are you worried that the other person will think you are being too forward? It’s important to be clarify whether you both have the same expectations—for example, do you both intend to have a monogamous relationship?
If you are ready to have this conversation, do a little planning. Find a time and place where you will have privacy and are not likely to be interrupted. You might say, “Things seem to be heating up between the two of us, and I’m really glad about that. Before we consider having sex, I’d like to talk a little about how we will make sure we can both be safe and healthy.” If you are a man, you can say, “I want to reassure you that I wouldn’t consider having sex without a condom. I just think that is a really important step for protecting us both, even though pregnancy isn’t an issue.” (Note: Pregnancy may still be an issue if the woman is not completely through menopause, so talk about this as well.) A woman with a male partner might say, “It is important to me that you wear a condom. Is that what you were expecting to do?”
Condoms are a necessity, but they are not the whole story. Don’t forget that you will need to protect yourself during oral sex as well (you can look up information online about how to do this). It would be smart for you and your partner to get tested for sexually transmitted infections. You can find a place to get tested by entering your zip code at this website: http://hivtest.cdc.gov. Suggest going together and showing each other your results. Remember that even after a negative test, you will still need to use protection, and that it takes a while for positive results to show up after exposure.
It is sad but true that people who are uninformed, selfish, or stubborn may refuse to use safer sex strategies. If your ultimate goal is a committed relationship, a partner’s refusal to consider your preferences, your health, and your well-being is a reliable indicator that you ought to consider looking elsewhere for a loving mate. If your partner makes you feel unsafe or coerces you in any way, this is a warning sign of serious trouble.
In a good relationship, you ought to be able to talk freely, laugh a little, help each other out, and protect yourself and each other. Safer sex will be one of the benefits.
Northwest authors Jennifer Y. Levy-Peck, PhD, a psychologist, and her husband Charles Peck are write a weekly column on midlife relationships. They are working on a new book, "Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40."
Previous Magic at Midlife Columns:
Planning Your Wedding (for Mature Couples)
Too Young or Too Old to be Your Partner?
Who Pays for What on a Date
Starting a New Relationship Before Your Kids Are Grown
Why You Need a Relationship Roadmap
Living with Pets and a New Partner
Exploring New Roles
Rowing Through Life Together
Let’ Talk About Sex
Helping Your Adult Children Accept Your New Partner
In Sickness and In Health
Step-Grandparenting Can Be Grand
Enjoy Life Together
Online Dating for the Older Set
Enjoying the Single Life
Sex in Midlife Relationships: Complicated but Wonderful!
Upgrade Your Communication Skills