Divorce is a Sex Hazard for Middle Aged Women
The message that divorce is a sex hazard for middle-aged women comes to light out of the shadow of ageism following recent news stories focused on the rising rates of HIV infection in an aging population. However, according to health officials at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, newly divorced women comprise a special population of HIV victims because of the behavior and body of the middle-aged woman.
While part of the rise of HIV in older Americans is due to HIV victims surviving longer due to better medical treatment, another part has to do with newly divorced middle-aged women seeking a relationship while either ignoring or being unaware of the hazards of sex and HIV.
According to Christopher Coleman, PhD, MPH, RN, newly divorced women are especially vulnerable toward contracting sexually transmitted diseases including HIV because of two reasons. The first reason is a behavioral one in which older women who are no longer concerned about becoming pregnant are unlikely to use protection during sex with a new partner.
The second reason is that older women who have gone through menopause undergo physiological changes such as a thinning of the vaginal walls and a decrease in vaginal lubrication, both of which makes a woman more susceptible to viral infection.
“There is a knowledge gap with women knowing what the physiological changes associated with menopause are,” says Dr. Coleman. “There is very little research on this subject and society and the government don't talk about it, but these high risk sexual behaviors need to be addressed because the rate of HIV positive middle aged women is increasing.”
According to HIV Wisdom for Older Women— a program dedicated to awareness and support for older women affected by HIV—the problem of HIV in older women is multifactorial. Not only are older women (including those who are recently divorced) facing biological and educational hurdles, but societal ones as well because of a double stigma: ageism and shame associated with infection of a sexually transmitted disease.
Furthermore, older women are sensitive to a youth-centered cultural attitude that assumes: "Elderly people have lived their lives—so what if they die from AIDS?" Such attitudes can prevent a woman from seeking medical help and social support.
To help bring awareness to this problem, HIV Wisdom for Older Women offers the following facts dealing with HIV and middle-age and older women:
• Nearly 10 percent of AIDS cases in the U.S. female population are said to be in women older than age 50; and, numbers of cases are expected to increase, as women of all ages survive longer due to improved drug therapy and other treatment advances.
• In the last decade, AIDS cases in women over 50 were reported to have tripled, while heterosexual transmission rates in this age group may have increased as much as 106 percent. But, because not all U.S. states report HIV infections, it is impossible to know how many older American women are HIV-infected, but not diagnosed with AIDS.
• "Older women," according to UNAIDS, "appear to have higher incidence than older men, and during a recent 5-year period, the number of new cases in this group increased by 40 percent. More than half of the infected over 50 are of African-American and Hispanic origin, indicating greater risks among minority groups."
• There is no doubt that older women of color have higher rates of both HIV infections and diagnosed cases of AIDS.
• While all older individuals with HIV infection or AIDS usually are invisible, isolated and ignored, this is particularly true of women, who are often unable to disclose their HIV status even to family and friends and, certainly, not their community.
• Despite myths and stereotypes, many senior women are sexually active, and, some are drug users; therefore, their behaviors can put them at risk for HIV infection.
• Health care and service providers—and older women, themselves—do not realize that they are at the same risk as other age populations; professionals often are reluctant to discuss or question matters of sexuality with their aging patients/clients.
• Most women (and all older persons) are first diagnosed with HIV at a late stage of infection, and often become ill with AIDS-related complications and die sooner than their younger counterparts; these deaths can be attributed to original misdiagnoses and immune systems that naturally weaken with age.
• HIV/AIDS educational campaigns and programs are not targeted at/to older individuals (how often does a wrinkled face appear on a prevention poster?).
To help combat this growing sex hazard of HIV infection in newly divorced middle-aged and older women, recommendations are made that HIV education programs need to be developed that (1) target older women, (2) teach sex negotiation skills to divorced women who have been out of the dating loop for many years, and (3) pressure media and social marketing campaigns to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS in older people while promoting respect and validation for the elderly as a group.
Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile
University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing news release