CHAPEL HILL (NC) – When older people start
dating, they run into many of the same heart-pounding issues as
the young, trying to decide when it’s time to talk – and when
to make love.
That’s the word from older singles such as Emily
Gordon, 73, a Carrboro resident who’s on the dating scene and has
started a community conversation about how older people could and
should get together.
The conversation is vital: Whether younger people
want to hear it or not, at least 20 percent of older adults are
sexually active. But these older sex partners also can be at risk
in a health-care world that tends to overlook their amorous activities.
On the emotional side, Gordon says, older people
she has encountered want most a friend to talk to, then someone
to date, and, yes, a partner for something "beyond dating."
"I believe sex is important in a relationship,"
Chapel Hill resident Wally Friedman, 75, told prospective older
daters at a recent public discussion. "But you two will have
more verbal intercourse than sexual."
For older people, particularly those who have lost
spouses or partners, negotiating the dating world can present an
unsettling conflict between long-ago experiences and present-day
reality. Gordon, Friedman and Chapel Hill resident Rita Berman –
giving advice based on their personal experiences – talked frankly
and sometimes explicitly with audience members recently about dating
and hooking up.
"Is it unreasonable to ask a man who seeks
intimacy to have an AIDS test?" asked one of the audience members
who handed up folded questions.
Sure, that’s fine, people said at the discussion
at Orange County’s Seymour Center.
According to state health statistics, the questioner
was definitely on to something. More than 700 North Carolinians
45 and older contracted HIV in North Carolina last year. They represented
nearly 30 percent of the new cases in the state, with the high number
of cases in the younger end of that scale reflecting a growing problem.
"If you are thinking about initiating a relationship,
there’s a wonderful word called ‘condom,’" Gordon said, adding
that a sexually transmitted disease can be especially troublesome
for an older person who already has health problems.
Dr. Racquel Daley-Placide, a geriatrician and clinical
assistant professor at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine’s
Division of Geriatrics, said many older people are poorly informed
about how to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases.