The Terrible Hidden Toll of Being Old and Unemployed
INTERESTING STUFF – 25 January 2014

We're Old, We Still Like Sex and Yes, We Know About Condoms

The blaring headline in last Sunday's New York Times was hard for someone like me who writes about aging to ignore: Sex and the Single Senior.

In addition, the Op-ed was written by Ezekiel Emanuel, famous oncologist brother of the current Chicago mayor and former adviser to President Barack Obama.

Although I didn't know on Sunday and still don't know today how expertise in cancer relates to knowledge of STDs in elders, the story's placement in the newspaper of record made it a must read.

It does not start off well. Emanuel's lead sentence is so demeaning to elders that my first thought was (and remains) that I can't trust anything else he says. Here's that first paragraph:

”What is happening in retirement communities, assisted living facilities and nursing homes? You might imagine quiet reading, crossword puzzles, bingo, maybe some shuffleboard. Think again. Think about sex — unsafe sex.”

Don't you just want to smack him? Not only does he believe old people are dozing away their dotage, he thinks we're stupid about sex too. It gets worse.

It appears that Emanuel is a prude about old people enjoying any sex at all. A friend, he writes, told him that when her father moved into an assisted living residence,

”...three women came by to introduce themselves within 30 minutes. And it wasn’t to compare Medicare pharmacy plans and premiums.”

Eew! We can't have elders of the opposite sex interested in one another in that way, can we.

Further, he – a physician - seems to believe that sex among elders is a new phenomenon:

”...older people are living longer and are in better health. As a result, they are remaining sexually active much later into life...

“But while they are having a lot of sex, seniors didn’t seem to get the safe sex memo, or when it came through they ignored it because they did not think it applied to them.”

Emanuel's “proof” of this outrageous generalization derives from a misrepresention of statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in this demonstrably false assertion:

”Combine retirement communities, longer life, unfamiliarity with condoms and Viagra — and what do you get? You get an S.T.D. epidemic among the Social Security generation that rivals what we imagine is happening in those Animal House fraternities.”

I'll let that nasty, little condom and Viagra reference slide, but the CDC statistics on STDs among elders bear no resemblance to Emanuel's “epidemic” characterization.

In this chart at the CDC, for example, between 2007 and 2011, the number of cases of chlamydia in men and women age 65 and older increased from 809 (2.1 per 100,000) to 1064 (2.6 per 100,000).

During the same period, the number of chlamydia cases for those age 20-24 increased from 401,173 (1,907.4 per 100,000) to 542,947 (2,515.3 per 100,000).

Come on now. In no way does the first set of numbers “rival” the second.

Emanuel tries to further his contention of STDs run amok among elders with a wildly illogical comparison of the kinds of health tests Medicare beneficiaries undergo.

”Free S.T.D. tests,” he notes, “were as popular as colonoscopies among the 47.6 million eligible Medicare Part B patients.”

And why not? They are both important health conditions and it is a good thing, not evidence of epidemic, that there were 2.2 million STD tests AND 2.2 million colonoscopy screenings.

In conclusion, Ezekial makes his stand: “These S.T.D. numbers,” he says, “demand that seniors take responsibility for their actions.”

Right - as if we're all irresponsible layabouts who don't know anything about sex and its consequences.

Ezekiel calls for an education campaign aimed at old people about safe sex and then shows off even more of his ignorance and ageism with these suggestions:

”Social Security could include some information on S.T.D.’s [sic] and how to use a condom when it sends out checks.

“Come to think of it, these data mean there is an untapped market: over 40 million Americans who are unfamiliar with latex protection. Maybe Durex and Trojan can mail free condoms to every Social Security recipient?”

Dear god. Can it be that he thinks elders have never heard of condoms? Did he really write this article without knowing paper Social Security checks disappeared a year ago in favor of direct deposit and debit cards.

The terrible thing about Dr. Emanuel's Op-ed is that while a campaign to give elders a refresher course in STDs is not an urgent need, it is certainly a good idea.

But it's hard to take seriously even a smart suggestion from a person as uninformed as this man, especially when he also harbors so many ageist stereotypes about elders - unforgivable in someone who is fast approaching age 60 himself.

[UPDATE: After I wrote this post, I discovered this story by Michael Miner at Chicago Reader. He does his own similar and excellent take-down of Dr. Emanuel's misuse of statistics.]

ANNOUNCEMENT: In keeping with letting myself off the hook for too many responsibilities while sick, I have not prepared stories for The Elder Storytelling Place this week. They will return next Monday 27 January.


Good chuckle to start the day! This sounds like a George Carlin standup routine! Hilarious! Where has this doc been this past decade or two? Once again Ronni, you've made my day with new "valuable" info :)Dee

I do like those stats you showed us. Gee, golly, gosh, it looks to me as if sex education did reach the elder generation after all. Now I will go read the other article.

At least he didn't tell us all to, "Just say no."

Dr. Emanuel's comments show that you don't have to be old to show that you know nothing about being elderly.
The Case Management office at the Assisted Living Facility where I live keeps condoms on hand at all times. Out of curiosity, I asked the Director if they are used very much. She told me that she's on her second box that month.
P.S., The pool table on the lower level of our facility is not always used for pool.

I skimmed that NYT article and howled. In addition to being idiotic about sex among elders, how about the crazy assumption that significant numbers of us are living in assisted living facilities? I'd be stunned if the number was as high as 5 percent. Most people hope to age in place and most people can't afford those facilities where Emmanuel thinks we are acting like ignorant bunnies.

One of my father's favorites quotes was about how numbers can be made to say anything you like "Lies, damn lies, and statistics."

"But it's hard to take seriously even a smart suggestion from a person as uninformed as this man, especially when he also harbors so many ageist stereotypes about elders ..."

If one looks deep enough at this Ronni we might actually see some devious efforts here from people who want to reduce Social Security benefits by using the argument that entitlements are a drain on today’s youth.

By twisting and even falsifying the facts about senior sex and STDs this could well push many young people to conclude that older people really are a drain on the 18-34 year old crowd. It’s nothing short of a divide and conquer approach by the author of that NY Times piece.

“Come to think of it, these data mean there is an untapped market: over 40 million Americans who are unfamiliar with latex protection. Maybe Durex and Trojan can mail free condoms to every Social Security recipient?” says the good doctor.

"Amazing" says I.

How does he think we managed in the 40s and 50s when "rubbers" were the only preventative measures around.

Or, perhaps now that we are 'old' we have forgotten how to use this complicated device and need a refresher course.

As you note, the entire article is a bit strange and perhaps should have been filed in the satire section.

famous or infamous oncologist? You have to wonder on what numbers he makes patient recommendations for treatments.

What? He thinks we think condoms are just for party balloons?

Bruce Cooper, I love your comment.

This poor, old, and sadly-leftout of the social scene incalcitrant ideologue probably knows very little of Haight-Ashbury and its famous (or infamous to others) history. The H-A, the Vahalla of the 60s,70s, and now of the surviving hippy like Seniors of today.

The Villages in Florida has a reputation for being extremely promiscuous - undoubtedly a trumped up phenomenon; but nonetheless, and indicator of the very active lifestyle that happy Seniors (the ones with the perpetual smiles) still enjoy on a mostly frequent basis!

Rave on! Jim Morrison . . wherever you maybe.

Take care os yourself, dear

Sheesh, Emanuel. We old, not dead!

Note to Dr. Emmanuel "Wow, is there a surprise in store for you someday, if you're lucky!"

Nailed it! Nailed him!
Thank you, Ronni.

Boy oh boy; have I ever been missing a lot. Sigh !!!

You are so funny and full of valuable information, Ronni. I date (thru an online website) and have shared the contents of this idiots survey with a couple of the men I've's good for a laugh but I have to agree with Larrys comment about divide and conquer. Too true Larry. Who knows what the people in the red states in the middle of the country will think of we coastal fast living people.

I only wish I still got my check thru the mail..I've been to Social Security twice this week to straighten out my automatic deposit problem as well as waited 2 hours on ignore (aka hold) to be told they can't help me fill out the form on their website.
For my safety and protection of course, because their damn computer does not compare with reality. Meanwhile my SS check goes to the rip off bank I foolishly chose on impulse. Maybe I need a comdom to protect my brain

Thanks Ronni, I couldn't have said it better myself. I have one question for you.
Do they still prevent married couples from living together in nursing homes? Such a stupid rule. Are they afraid they'll be happy to have their lifetime partner with them.

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