PHOENIX — It was the kind of disclosure that made modest people blush and left others shaking their heads: Senior citizens in Sun City West were getting busted for having sex in public.
Community officials reported more than a dozen incidents recently of couples engaged in amorous affairs in parking lots, in swimming pools, on park benches, even spas in the suburban Phoenix retirement community.
“The younger population assumes seniors never have sex,” said Mauryne Hall, spokeswoman for the community’s recreation center. “But this is not God’s waiting room. We have very active seniors. And seniors are human beings and have all the same urges and desires as all other human beings.”
Community leaders are trying to squelch the public nature of those activities in Sun City West, essentially telling their neighbors, as Miss Hall puts it, to “get a room.”
But the goings-on in Sun City West are just further evidence that seniors all over are rediscovering their sex drives in growing numbers. Some possible reasons behind that surge in sexual urges are healthier lifestyles and performance-enhancing drugs such as Viagra, which has been mass marketed for more than two years.
In its 1999 Modern Maturity Sexuality Survey of people age 45 and above, researchers working for AARP found that two out of three respondents who had partners were extremely satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their sex lives.
The survey also found that 10 percent of the men and 7 percent of the women used Viagra or some other medicine to enhance sexual performance. Additionally, half of the men and about 40 percent of the women said better health for themselves or their partners improves their satisfaction with their sex lives.
Those statistics may boggle the minds of people who can’t imagine their gray-haired grandparents getting amorous, but they also come with sobering consequences.
Along with the growth of people using medicine to boost their sex lives comes a similar rise in reports of sexually transmitted diseases.
In 1995, Arizona’s Department of Health Services recorded 37 cases of gonorrhea among people 55 and older. The figure grew 46 percent to 54 cases in 2000.
Similarly, through 1998 the state consistently identified less than five instances a year when a patient age 60 or older was diagnosed with HIV. The only exception was 1986, when six cases were reported.
But in 1999, the number of HIV diagnoses jumped to nine, a figure that was matched in 2000.
Though the rate of increase is substantial, public health officials are not sounding alarms. Seniors account for only 1.3 percent of the total cases in Arizona.
“It’s a slight increase,” said Phil Powers, who tracks sexually transmitted diseases for the Department of Health Services. “It’s sort of ho-hum stuff.”
Unless, of course, you are the person affected by a sexually transmitted disease.
That’s why Joseph Feldman, director of education and counseling for Planned Parenthood, recommends safe sex practices for everybody, including senior citizens.
Too many seniors don’t take such precautions, Mr. Feldman said, citing several reasons:
* Most older women are past menopause, so they don’t fear getting pregnant.
* While the safe sex battles of the 1980s were raging, many of today’s seniors were settled in marriages so sexually transmitted diseases “were something that happened to somebody else.”
* They grew up at a time when men called the shots in most relationships.
* Women of senior age outnumber their male counterparts, giving those men many partners from whom to choose.
“It’s almost like being a kid in the candy store,” Mr. Feldman said. “Why would you want to be with a woman who wants you to wear a condom when three others don’t.”
The answer to that question is found in the Health Department disease statistics.
“Certainly anybody with multiple partners or a new partner should be using condoms,” Mr. Feldman said. “And it should be promoted openly.”