the risks are realI treated myself to a new box of condoms during a recent trip to the drugstore. Admittedly I hid them in the bottom of my cart in case I ran into someone I knew. The last time I bought condoms was back in 2008 when I started a new relationship with a man who had herpes. This previous boyfriend and I discussed his STD in great length and I talked to my gynecologist about it as well—before we had sex.  I read up on herpes and I decided to stay in the relationship and to have sex with him. We used condoms and were careful to abstain when he felt those early telltale signs of an outbreak (which only happened once in the 18 months we dated). This was important because one of the things I learned is that herpes can be transmitted even when using condoms. Skin cells on the inner thigh or other areas not covered by a condom can contain the herpes virus. I was tested before the relationship and I got tested when it ended. It is the mature and responsible thing to do. It is about taking care of myself.

It’s important to learn about sexually transmitted infections, particularly if you’re not in a monogamous relationship. Even if you’re in a serious relationship or marriage you should pay attention, because sometimes even when we think we’re safe, we aren’t.

Buying and using condoms is one of the best ways to reduce the chances of getting a STI/STD. There are a few things you need to know about condoms—expiration dates, the interaction between lubricants and condom materials, how to put them on and so forth. The Condom Depot has a wonderful guide on condoms and is a discreet, reputable website that sells condoms.

The main reason for women our age to use condoms is for disease prevention.  A CBS news report  cited these statistics, “According to CDC estimates, there were almost 900 cases of syphilis in 45 to 64-year-olds in 2000, and in 2010, the number grew to more than 2,500. In the elderly age group, 6,700 people were diagnosed with chlamydia in 2000; by 2010, 19,000. The number of new HIV diagnoses in people over 50 has also doubled between 2000 and 2009, according to the editorial’s authors.”  The obvious conclusion?  People over 50 can, and do, get sexually transmitted infections.

There are several factors at play here. One is the “It can’t happen to me” factor. And, the other is that we are less cautious after menopause. We assume that since babies aren’t an issue we can go without protection.

Many women find it difficult to talk about sex; asking a man to wear a condom can feel very uncomfortable. Results for STDs and HIV tests can take days or weeks and many couples aren’t willing to wait—if they can be convinced to get tested. Many of the men I’ve met saw no need for testing. It’s easy to let your guard down or rationalize that your new partner seems so respectable and “clean.” It must be OK just this once!

When you have sex with a new guy or woman, you are exposing yourself to the STD history of every person he/she has dated and their past partners. It’s a sex tree with many, many branches. We can’t assume our partner will share his past history, so we need to be aware of the risks. Ultimately we are responsible for our own bodies and every decision we make.

And that’s why I have a new package of condoms in my bathroom. If I choose to have sex with a new partner I have a responsibility to my health and well-being to insist that we use a condom. And if he says no? We won’t be having sex. Would you want to have sex with a person who didn’t respect you enough to understand your concerns and comply? Me neither.

If you want some help in talking to your partner about this, these articles might be helpful:

The Conversation to Have Before You Get Into Bed

Understanding the Risks of Sexually Transmitted Diseases for Older Adults

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