STD Awareness: Sexually Transmitted Infections and Seniors

For a while now, seniors plus sex has equaled a surefire route to punchlines and nervous giggles. Take, for instance, an episode of Amy Poehler’s old TV show, Parks and Recreation, titled “Sex Education.” In the opening scene, Poehler’s character Leslie Knope sets up the premise of the episode:

Soon, Knope and her team of public servants find themselves giving information about sexual health to an audience full of elderly citizens, which attracts the attention of abstinence advocates, who accuse her of moral depravity. Hilarity ensues. Funny stuff!

Funny, but based on a not-so-funny reality: Baby boomers and other older people are facing rising rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), both here in Arizona and nationwide, as well as across the pond in Jolly Old England.

Earlier this year, the Arizona Department of Health Services released data showing an increase in STD rates among people 55 years of age or older. For example, in Maricopa County, this population more than doubled its gonorrhea rate, which climbed from 6.1 cases per 100,000 people in 2012, to 12.7 per 100,000 people in 2014. That’s still much lower than the overall rate for Arizona, which was 97.8 cases per 100,000 people in 2013, but the fact that the rates of gonorrhea and other STDs are spiking among the 55-plus population is alarming nevertheless. Continue reading

Margaret Sanger in Tucson: “Daring to Live”

“When the marvel of the spring came to the desert, you saw the cactus and the flowering, saw the brown floor change to delicate pale yellow, stood in awe of nature daring to live without water. You were reminded of the futility of wearing out your life merely providing food and raiment. Like the challenge of death, which so many of the people there were gallantly facing, the desert itself was a challenge.” – Margaret Sanger on Tucson, in her autobiography

Margaret Sanger in 1959, with friend Grace Sternberg, returning to the United States after a trip to New Delhi, Sanger's final overseas trip.

Sanger in 1959, with friend Grace Sternberg, returning to the United States after a trip to New Delhi, Sanger’s final overseas trip.

Margaret Sanger moved to Tucson in the 1930s and soon thereafter decided to live here full time, believing that the warm climate was conducive to good health. During Sanger’s years in Tucson, she latched onto any health fad or other technique she thought might improve her health. She exercised and experimented with various diets, including fasting on juice; eating a combination of yogurt, wheat germ, and honey; taking vitamin E supplements; and eating papayas (which she had shipped from Hawaii) for their alleged “restorative substances.”

In 1949, however, Sanger suffered a heart attack, and her son Stuart, a doctor, injected her with Demerol, a recently introduced painkiller not considered addictive at the time. The next year she had a second heart attack, resulting in another long convalescence at the hospital. Her addiction to Demerol intensified; she got Stuart to write prescriptions for her, and would sometimes falsely claim that bottles of the drug had fallen and shattered, which would require further prescriptions to be written. If a nurse refused her demand for Demerol, Sanger would inject it herself. Her son tried to wean her from the drug by collecting empty bottles and filling them with a diluted concentration of the drug, slowly increasing the proportion of water to Demerol until the solution was pure water. This was effective for a while, but eventually Sanger realized she had been duped and endeavored to get her hands back on the drug. She went through other doctors, firing them when they would decrease her dosage, and eventually took to self-administering injections of pure water every 30 minutes. Her addiction, it seemed, was both to the drug itself and the psychological comforts of the injection.  Continue reading