Dr. Susan Kegeles, co-director for the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California-San Francisco, said people are often uncomfortable talking about sexuality; discussing the sexual proclivities of the elderly is even harder.
While the prevalence of sexual activity decreases with age, men and women still have sex well into their 80s and 90s, according to a study last year in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Jane Fowler's HIV-positive diagnosis at age 55 came as a shock. The few times she had sex after her marriage ended, condoms seemed unnecessary; she thought of them only as contraception.
"There is this denial among older people that this can happen to them," said Fowler, now 73 and the founder of HIV Wisdom for Older Women, based in Kansas City, Kan.
In Santa Clara County, Calif., people older than 60 make up only 1.2 percent of the total number of HIV or AIDS patients. Those 50 to 59 years old make up 8.8 percent of the county's HIV/AIDS population, said Joy Alexiou, county public health department spokeswoman.
Experts said sex education is key to ensuring the percentages stay down. Just as important: learning that sex is about more than intercourse.
"Seniors need companionship," Saltman said. "Even if it's just touch, feel, the idea that somebody gives a hoot."
"It's part of life," said his wife, Linda. "Why keep it a secret?"
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