You try to look at the bright side at mid-life, to find the silver lining. Okay, you say, so I occasionally sweat profusely for no apparent reason, I'm moodier than ever and I can't seem to remember s _ _ _ , but at least I don't have to worry about those damned condoms anymore! Get out the Kama Sutra and squeeze into some lingerie, it's party time! Heck, menopause hasn't given you much to smile about besides worry free sex, so make the most of it, right? Sexual freedom at last! No chance of getting pregnant, no worries?
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but while unintended pregnancy may not be an issue anymore, there's a new kid in town and it's called HIV. Old news, you say? Not a problem for middle-aged, monogamists like yourself? If you really believe that, do yourself a favor and keep reading. Also, you might want to dig that box of condoms back out of the garbage, you're gonna need them.
According to an article in the April 2009 issue of More Magazine, one in three women who are newly infected with HIV are women over forty. And, it's not just the divorcees having a fling with the pool-boy who are getting infected. In putting themselves back on the market, the newly single may be at risk, but married women may actually be at even greater risk. Single women, who don't have a long-standing relationship built of trust, are more likely to use condoms. But married women tend to trust their spouses and, as long as the threat of pregnancy is removed, think that they have nothing else to worry about. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
According to the More article, recent studies suggest that at least 22% of married men stray at one time or another and they don't often use condoms with extra-marital partners. They also can't exactly come home and suddenly start suggesting condom use to the wife for no apparent reason. This makes for a particularly dangerous situation for married women when it comes to their chances for contracting HIV. Worse yet, doctors often miss the diagnosis until it's too late to prevent full-blown AIDS. Symptoms such as fatigue, night sweats and bowel changes are often written off as menopausal complaints or other auto-immune diseases like lupus. When a middle-aged, married woman comes into the office with a variety of vague symptoms, the idea of possible HIV infection just doesn't pop up.
Like most serious illnesses, the earlier HIV is identified, the earlier treatment starts and the better the chance for long-term survival. Unfortunately for many women, particularly those who are older and married, the diagnosis is often made years after the disease is contracted.
Still think that you have nothing to worry about? If you're having unprotected sex with anyone, even with a long-term partner or trusted spouse, you are taking your chances. Don't believe me? Pick up the April 2009 issue of More and read the article for yourself. None of the women interviewed ever thought they had anything to worry about either.
If, on the other had, you are a little worried, do something to protect yourself. Use condoms, even with your husband. If he gets suspicious, show him this blog post or the article in More to make your case. If you just can't bring yourself to let a little latex come between you and your partner, at least get an HIV test once a year. If you become infected, early treatment can make a huge difference. Most insurance covers the tests and if you don't have insurance, search the net under "free, anonymous AIDS test" and find a clinic near you.
Mid-life, even with all of it's baggage, can be an opportunity for growth and change and new beginnings. Please, protect yourself. Don't let HIV steal your dreams.