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HealthWatch: STDs On The Rise Among People Over 55

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EMERYVILLE (CBS 5) — Among Americans 55 years and older, cases of sexually transmitted disease are on the rise. In fact, Medicare may soon add STD screenings as a covered benefit.

On a Saturday night at the Allegro Ballroom in Emeryville, it takes two to tango. La Milonga de Nora is a popular event, drawing dancers from as far away as Modesto on a recent rainy night.

Paula Meo explained why she likes the tango. “It’s a dance of love. It’s a dance of passion and it’s a two minute love affair,” she said.

You can understand why: dancers circulate among partners for sets of tango numbers. Then they stop, and change partners.

Meo is single, over 55 and just wants to dance. But if love comes her way, she said, “Never say never because you never know when you are going to meet your soul mate.”

She may have ample time to find out. Americans are living longer, healthier lives. Add to that mix, drugs such as Viagra, and more sex later in life is not only possible, it’s a reality.

Intimacy Coach Katherine Forsythe exclaimed, “No more rocking chairs on the porch and just going to be and watching TV. No, no, no! This generation is active in bed.”

Geriatrician Dr. Walter Bortz agreed, saying, “We’ve matured and one of the great maturations is that we’re learning you can have good sex your whole life,”

But older Americans are also waking up to discover that along with good sex comes a big problem: sexually transmitted disease.

In just five years in this age group, STD rates have jumped nearly 50 percent. One reason according to experts, those who survived the “Summer of Love” did not grow up during the AIDS epidemic.

Dr. Louann Brizendine of UCSF is an expert on hormones. She said, “They grew up in a generation of free love and didn’t learn sexual habits that predated that. That included protection against STDs.”

In other words: condoms. Men in their 50s are six times less likely to use a condom than men in their 20s.

Not only that, older Americans are less likely to get tested for STDs.

“So that is really, really scary, when we think about online dating or hooking up with people where you don’t know where they’ve been or what they’ve done,” Forsythe said.

Forsythe runs a service for older Americans who are looking for intimacy. It’s called A Second Wind. She counsels her clients to carry condoms and to ask dates for medical proof they’re clean.

“I tell my people no papers, no partner,” Forsythe said.

As for Meo, she will tango, but never with her health. She thinks you need to practice safe sex no matter what your age, and be up front with any partner.

“If they’re ambiguous and they don’t’ want to answer your question, next!” Meo said, gesturing with her thumb. “You don’t need to go there.”

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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