Baby Boomers and the STD Bulge

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    Celebrity sex expert Dr. Ruth Westheimer points to an alarming increase in the rate of sexually transmitted diseases among older patients, saying a change in awareness – and attitude – is needed.

    As a teenage sniper in the Haganah, fighting for Israel’s independence, I never imagined I’d end up being famous for talking candidly about sex. But someone had to do it, and I stepped up. Yet today, in my mid-80s, I sometimes wonder if I’ve been preaching to the deaf, at least where Baby Boomers are concerned.

    Recent studies indicate there’s an alarming increase in the rates of sexually transmitted diseases among Baby Boomers. Why is it that a generation that grew up in what was supposedly an era of sexual liberation can often be dumber about STDs and the need for safer sex than their own offspring and pubescent grandkids?

    We should all be a lot wiser now. There’s a wealth of information available about STDs, whether it’s via public health campaigns or any number of websites – most of them geared towards young people. Clearly, they also need to aim higher.

    In a way, I think members of the Boomer generation share the same conceit as a lot of young people: They think they’re invincible.

    When Dr. Ruth’s Guide to Good Sex was published in 1983 – the first of more than 35 books that were triggered by my pioneering radio broadcasts – the main STD risks were chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, and syphilis. HIV/AIDS was still on the horizon. Then it exploded into an epidemic and, for a while, people – particularly those belonging to post-Boomer generations – became hyper-aware of the dangers.

    Now, with the initial horrors of the AIDS crisis behind us, when becoming HIV positive is no longer a death sentence – at least in the developed nations – people are tending to let their guard down.

    Compounding this “It can’t happen to me” attitude is the fact that Boomers are ill-informed about STDs, and wouldn’t necessarily be able to identify the symptoms. At the same time, they’re living longer and being told – correctly, of course – that it’s good to keep having sex. Treatments for erectile dysfunction and the availability of effective female lubricants nowadays make this easier than before.

    This would be fine if Boomers were smart about the risks, but they grew up in an age when sex education was virtually non-existent. By the time AIDS came along, many of them were settled down, raising families, and more concerned about what their kids might be up to than about their own sexual habits.

    So what’s to be done? In a nutshell, there needs to be more education. We need to keep shouting information from the rooftops, and doctors need to pay closer attention to their patients’ sexual health.

    Unfortunately, my sense is that a lot of doctors feel uncomfortable talking to older patients about sex, and, for their part, Boomers are reluctant or embarrassed to broach the subject.

    Well, get over it. We’re adults. Having a healthy sex life is as important as eating properly and getting enough exercise.

    Boomers: When you go to see your family doctor, gynecologist, or urologist, go prepared with questions. Doctors generally have the answers, or can refer you to someone who does. It’s just that they may not bring the subject up on their own – you need to be proactive about it.

    I believe that having sex is fundamental to human existence. It’s a wonderful, joyous, life-affirming shared activity – and not just for young people. But Boomers must recognize that the same risks apply to them as everyone else.

    Dr. Ruth Westheimer is best known for having pioneered talking explicitly about sex on radio and television. She is the author of 35 books and the executive producer of five documentaries. She has her own private practice in New York and lectures worldwide.  She has her own web page ( and can be found on Twitter at AskDrRuth.
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