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AIDS and Seniors: An Interview With Dr.Tanya Bender-Henderson

By Candace Y.A. Montague

September 17, 2011

Seniors must protect themselves just like everyone else. Credit:

Seniors must protect themselves just like everyone else. Credit:

September 18, 2011 is the fourth annual National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day. The senior population often goes unnoticed when it comes to sexual health because people feel more comfortable with the thought that 'seasoned citizens' just don't have sex. Not true, say the statistics. In fact, HIV among the senior population is growing rapidly. In 2009, people aged 50 and older accounted for 17% of the new HIV diagnoses in 40 states with long-term confidential name-based reporting.

This Examiner had a chat with Dr. Tanya Bender-Henderson, faith-based outreach coordinator for Damien Mininstries in Northeast and member of the DC Department of Health's Places of Worship Advisory Board. She explained that seniors of the past are different from today's seniors and they experience some of the same struggles with sex and dating as their children and grandchildren do.

What is the difference between a senior citizen in 2011 and a senior citizen from the 1960s and 1970s?

I guess in my opinion, coming up in the 1970s, grandmothers looked like grandmothers and now you see 50- and 60-year-olds in tank tops and six-inch heels. You have more active seniors now than we had in previous generations. Some of them, in my opinion, are holding on to youth just a little too long. They may just feel younger.

Would it be fair to say that seniors have the same sexual issues and face the same obstacles as young people do?

Definitely. I know that now you've got more women into their 50s who have never been married. Or you've got more divorced women and men in their 50s and 60s. The prospect of navigating dating again is a little daunting. But at the same time you're dealing with dating in a time when you've got things that are going around that weren't going around when we were in high school. The worst that could happen in high school in the old days was that you contracted something that you had to get a penicillin shot for. Now you've got things that will kill you. My generation was less apt to negotiate condoms. Now they do need to negotiate condom use. That was different from their youth.

Why do you think the HIV rates are going up among the senior population? Is it really because of Cialis and Viagra?

The research answer is because we are living longer, we are healthier in our old age, and there is social networking and Internet dating. And there is Cialis, Viagra and those types of things. My personal answer relates to concurrent relationships which have been found in DC to be one of the reasons why HIV is spread so widely and so rapidly.

The seniors are sharing men?

Of course they are! I once asked my dad a long time ago, "Why is it that one woman is not enough for one man?" He said because some women are glad that a man will come by one day out of the week. So women make it hard for other women. Now that's not putting the blame on all the women or all the men. But yes, concurrent relationships happen: having sex with someone that you know has had sex with someone else within the past year. Given the statistics in our community, we start off with more women than men and then you cut out the ones that are in jail and the ones that are homosexual, and that lessens the pool. And so it makes sense that there would be some sharing. In the nursing homes the men have their pick because the women outnumber the men. I've also heard about the younger women coming into the nursing home towards the beginning of the month bringing what they call the happy meal [offering alcohol and possibly marijuana -- ed.]. And that's how the HIV and STD problems are coming into the nursing homes.

What are some myths that seniors need to know more about?

They have to stop thinking that just because they are beyond the child-bearing years they don't have to worry about condoms. They have to stop believing that a person of a certain look or profession or social status would be a safe sex partner, which is a problem for many people. STDs and HIV don't discriminate in terms of who you are or what you look like. I know that from my research women tend to think that every man wants to have sex and men think that every woman wants to get married. That isn't always the case.

For more information about HIV/AIDS and aging, click here.

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A great resource on aging and HIV/AIDS is on The Click here to see.

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See Also
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
More on HIV Prevention Issues for Older People

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D.C. HIV/AIDS Examiner

Candace Y.A. Montague

Candace Y.A. Montague

Candace Y.A. Montague has been learning about HIV since 1988 (and she has the certificates from the American Red Cross to prove it). Health is a high priority to Candace because she believes that nothing can come of your life if you're not healthy enough to enjoy it. One of her two master's degrees is in Community Health Promotion and Education. Candace was inspired to act against HIV after seeing a documentary in 2008 about African-American women and HIV. She knew that writing was the best way for her to make a difference and help inform others. Candace is a native Washingtonian and covers HIV news all around D.C. She has covered fundraisers, motorcycle rides, town hall meetings, house balls, Capitol Hill press conferences, election campaigns and protests for The DC and emPower News Magazine.

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