Think Like A Girl Scout

Interview with Bambi Gaddist, DrPH 

Executive Director of the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council

What do older women need to hear about HIV risk that they're not hearing anywhere else?

Marriage was not a protection from HIV/STDs. Some women get it when they are married because their husbands were unfaithful. If you’re divorced, and sexually active, you can be infected. This is especially true if your partners are younger than you are, but even if your partner is your age or older. Most older women don’t hear anything about HIV or STDs from their doctors.

Why is that message not reaching them?

Doctors aren’t bringing up the issue of safe sex with older women. You don’t see brochures about sexual health in their waiting rooms. And even if they do, the brochures have pictures of young people on them.

Some older women have it ingrained in them from their younger years, or from a religious upbringing, that sex is shameful, or not something you’re supposed to be preparing for. Think like a girl scout: Be prepared! If you don’t have sex often, you are more likely to get an STD. That’s because you’re not prepared. Have that condom in your purse and in your night table.

Here’s something else that happens: Older women who go on hormone replacement therapy or use bio-identical hormones have a resurgence in sexual feelings or libido, which they haven’t felt in a long time. Doctors don’t mention this. Women aren’t prepared for those feelings, and not prepared for the sexual encounters that may happen.

How can older women empower themselves; not become a statistic?

One of the best ways women can empower themselves overall is by being economically independent, not financially dependent on someone else. That creates freedom. Also getting past old ideas and beliefs about men being in control. You are in control of what happens to you.

Older women also need to accept the reality that there are not as many older men out there. You have to come up with new strategies for meeting people, and for having a good life with or without a long-term romantic partner.

How can older women use their social networks to raise awareness and support each other in practicing safe sex?

Talk to your friends. Ask them if they know about practicing safe sex. Find out what their experiences are. Laugh about it! Use Facebook to organize a “girls night out”. Talk to each other so you can support each other.