My grandmother is a sassy single lady playing the field in her retirement community. How do I talk to her about STIs?
First, let’s give a feminist round of applause to your grandma, for not letting her age get in the way of a healthy sex life, and to you, for recognizing the importance of sexual health no matter the age.
What kind of relationship do you and your grandma have? Have you talked about sex before? If it’s anything like my relationship with my grandmother, I’d guess the answer is that you’ve avoided that topic as if it were an STI itself. As much as we might not want to think about it, according to a survey from the Center for Disease Control, 26 percent of 75 to 85-year-olds are sexually active; it jumps to 53 percent for people 65 to 74 and 73 percent for those aged 57 to 64.
Before broaching the topic with your Grandma, a New York Times article from 2007 may help put some of her generation’s ideas about sex into perspective. Look at the programming at her retirement community — do they, like the one mentioned in the article, have any safe sex seminars? A group of creative seniors in Florida created a claymation video about the importance of safe sex for seniors. It’s a little contrived and ridiculous, but it’s made for and by seniors which may appeal to your grandmother.
Now to the more difficult part: How, exactly, do you start the conversation? Before getting nervous, think about this: your grandmother will be grateful for your concern about her health, even if she doesn’t react that way. Start with something affirming, such as, “I know this may be weird for me to say, but I think it’s great that you’re dating!” and then transition into, “I love you, and it’s really important to me that you’re healthy. You might not think it’s my place to ask, but I care about you, so I want to know: are you having safe sex?” No matter what you say, the conversation may be a little awkward, but you’re doing this for your grandmother’s health! If you come at it with that attitude, I’m sure she’ll be appreciative.
If your grandmother is savvy with the internet, direct her to Planned Parenthood‘s user-friendly pages on STIs and safe sex. Another helpful resource is the CDC’s page on specific risks for the elderly and on STIs in general. Your grandma can also call the CDC directly at 1-800-CDC-INFO if the internet isn’t her thing.
The most important thing to remember is that this is about your grandma’s health, and the conversation doesn’t have to be embarrassing. There is too much unnecessary stigma and shame when it comes to sex and single women, no matter the age. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!