Sexually Transmitted Infections and Aging

I teach a class on Sexuality and Aging.  I talk about a lot of things and spend a good chunk of it talking about Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

Following are the things I discuss.  I think it’s important (since I’m 64) that I discuss this here.

A growing number of older people now have HIV/AIDS. Almost one-fourth of all people with HIV/AIDS in this country are age 50 and older. This is partly because doctors are finding HIV more often than ever before in older people and because improved treatments are helping people with the disease live longer.

But there may even be many more cases than we know about. Why? One reason may be that doctors do not always test older people for HIV/AIDS and so may miss some cases during routine check-ups. Another may be that older people often mistake signs of HIV/AIDS for the aches and pains of normal aging, so they are less likely than younger people to get tested for the disease. Also, they may be ashamed or afraid of being tested. People age 50 and older may have the virus for years before being tested. By the time they are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, the virus may be in the late stages.

The number of HIV/AIDS cases among older people is growing every year because:

  • Older Americans know less about HIV/AIDS than younger people do. They do not always know how it spreads or the importance of using condoms, not sharing needles, getting tested for HIV, and talking about it with their doctor.
  • Healthcare workers and educators often do not talk with middle-aged and older people about HIV/AIDS prevention.
  • Older people are less likely than younger people are to talk about their sex lives or drug use with their doctors.
  • Doctors may not ask older patients about their sex lives or drug use or talk to them about risky behaviors.

Recent statistics from the CDC have shown that the number of new HIV infections is actually growing faster in individuals over 50 than in people 40 years and under, and HIV may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Other STIs  aren’t just a problem of the young. Seniors suffer from them, too. In fact, there are several reasons why older adults may actually be in more danger from STIs than their younger companions, including:

  1. Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show rapid increases in STIs among older people. Between 2007 and 2011, chlamydia infections among Americans 65 and over increased by 31 percent, and syphilis by 52 percent. Those numbers are similar to STI trends in the 20- to 24-year-old age group, where chlamydia increased by 35 percent and syphilis by 64 percent..
  2. Numerous factors have contributed to the increase in sexually transmitted diseases in seniors, and many of them stem from a single problem. Namely, clinicians and scientists don’t spend enough time thinking, or talking, about older individuals having sex. Not only are seniors usually overlooked in many STI studies, but they are frequently less likely to get screened for STIs than their younger counterparts.
  3. Also as people age and the assumption that they no longer are sexually active, doctors quit talking about sex and sti transmissions and checkups and women after menopause quit getting pap smears (or at least get less and less) which means an increase in cervical cancer which is caused by the HPV virus
  4. Retirement communities and assisted living facilities are becoming like college campuses. They cram a lot of similarly aged people together, and when they do, things naturally happen. As well as the lack of condoms and education when they are in Long term care facilities.
  5. Older people are living longer and are in better health. As a result, they are remaining sexually active much later into life. Several major surveys, including the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project and the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, report that among people age 60 and older, more than half of men and 40 percent of women are sexually active.
  6. Viagra
  7. Lack of screening for sexual problems can increase the risk of a disease going unnoticed for years, leading to serious complications.
  8. After menopause, women’s vaginal tissues thin and natural lubrication decreases. This can increase the risk of micro-tears and of sexual transmission of certain STIs
  9. Older people are less likely to use condoms, both because they don’t consider themselves to be at risk of STIs and because they were never educated that condoms should be part of their sex lives.
  10. The immune system naturally becomes less effective as people age, which can also increase the risk of STIs.

My Next Adventure

Well, many of you might have already heard this and I figure it’s time to write about it here.

This fall I am embarking on my next great adventure and it will be taking me out of the country for at least a year (maybe even longer). My dear friend Llywelyn and his wonderful wife Athena are moving to Cyprus and have invited me to join them! And of course I said yes. I’ll be leaving the end of September or first of October and I hope to be able to say goodbye to as many of you as possible in person.

This will mean more time to work on my books and a chance to visit places I’ve always want go to. I’m so excited!

In August I’ll be taking my Say Goodbye To America Tour, driving across country with one of my sweeties, so if you live in or near Boise, Denver, Bloomington, Nashville, Huntsville, Birmingham, Austin, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Palm Springs and the Bay Area (or places in between) let me know and we’ll try to at least grab coffee if our schedule allows it.

It’s going to be hard to leave Seattle (I’ve been in Washington since 1974, most of it in Seattle) and I’m excited to be able to do some traveling. I’ll stay in touch here and let you all know about my adventures on the other side of the pond.

I hope to continue to be able to present and teach while in Cyprus. If you’re currently in Europe or Northern Africa, or know someone I should know who lives there, please give me an introduction.   I’m looking forward to making new friends and taking my mission statement global.

My Personal Mission Statement

 

Several years ago I realized that I needed a personal Mission Statement.  Nonprofits and many businesses have Mission Statements.   A Mission Statement, simply put,  is a summary of the aims and values of a company or organization.  I believe that we, as individuals,  should also have Mission Statements.

What are our aims and values? After much thinking I came up with mine — to bring joy to sexuality and to make a difference in the world.  Even before I created my formal Mission Statement I realized I’ve been living within those aims and values for most of my life.  I just needed to put them into words

For the last 25+ years I’ve been teaching at colleges and universities around the country as well as sex, poly and BDSM conferences.  I’ve been creating sex positive events and classes for the greater Sex Positive Community.  I am one of the founders of the Center and the Foundation for Sex Positive Culture (two organizations that create space and education for the sex positive communities)and the Seattle Erotic Art Festival.    I’ve been on many  boards (like the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, a sexual  advocacy org;  Roots.org, a young adult homeless shelter;  Common Meals, an organization for feeding the homeless; to name three).  These are just some of the ways I’ve brought joy to sexuality and made a difference in the world.

I love it when some random person comes up to me and says “you spoke at my human sexuality class 10 years ago and now because of you I’ve found the BDSM community and my life’s been changed (I’ve had this happen in some form or the other dozens of times).  I love that I can make a difference in the world, even if it’s one person at a time.

It is powerful to put words to what I am about.  When I speak at colleges, teach classes at conferences, do keynote speeches I try to always remember to mention my Mission Statement.  I want to inspire others to create their own  So I ask you.  What is your mission?  What are your aims and values as an individual?   I’d love to know what you came up with.

Hate speech and hate crimes

I’ve been struggling with writing this all week.  I’ve been dismayed at the hatred and vitriol that is coming from my friends, colleagues, and the politicians I support,  in the last few weeks.  The shooting at the baseball field was kind of the last straw for me.  WTF?

If we begin to act like the worst of them we are no better than the then worst of them. My wise friend, Maggie McNeil said several months ago (when we were talking about the rise in hate speech and hate crimes from the right, immediately after the election) that anger and fear when allowed to ferment becomes hatred.  And that’s when I made a choice to not hate, no matter how unhappy and tired and fed up I was with the current political situation.  And I’ve stayed true to that (it’s why I started posting jokes every day on my Facebook page).  It’s not been easy.

I have to constantly remind myself that no matter how despicable an action is or hate-filled someone else is I cannot be part of that hate rhetoric.    I remind myself that those who are spouting rightwing hate speech were babies at one time and were innocent and pure until something or someone twisted them (even Trump as hard as that is to believe at times).  I remind myself that while many on the right are committing hate crimes and inciting violence (and now it’s even something many on the far left are doing) that there are more people who truly want to find a way for us to work out our differences and to move forward as a united country, not the divided one we currently inhabit.  I remind myself that some of the Trump supporters are people I love (much of my family) and that while I can be sad or even angry about their actions and support of this man, I don’t hate them or quit loving them.  I remind myself that my left leaning friends who are currently spouting hate and are wishing the other side would just go away (or die as one of my close friends said recently) are good and loving people who are just so caught up in the fear and anger that currently encompasses our world (not just our nation) that they are filled with that fermented hate and are not speaking from a rational place.

Oh, and the various communities I belong to and the people who I care about, oh they are breaking my heart with the horizontal violence which seems rampant these days.  The fighting and anger over the pride flag; the shit that has gone down at Evergreen College; the cis vs trans conversations happening all over Facebook; the feminist who are against decriminalization of sex work; POC marginalizing other POC because they don’t all agree; our elders chastising our younger community members for not treating them with respect while disrespecting the younger members current journeys; our younger members negating the perilous journeys  their elders took that got us this far in civil, LGBT and women’s rights.  I could go on and on.

I don’t know the perfect solution and I have a few suggestions.

I wrote a keynote speech for International Ms. Leather Contest where I talked about horizontal violence in the BDSM community (you can find it here on my blog).    I proposed that one way to stop the horizontal violence was for us to talk.  To get to know each other.  To realize that we are all humans.  To take the time to talk to each other.  To listen.  REALLY LISTEN!   We have to quit the infighting and horizontal violence and realize that we (I’m speaking about liberals here) all have many common goals and that while we have some differences we have more similarities.   We have to work together to change the world.

We also need to talk to those who differ politically from us.  We need to find our common ground (and believe me, no matter what you think, we do have common ground with many who we deem on the right).  We lost the last election because partly because we did not reach out to those in the Midwest who were fearful and angry.   We have to not allow that to happen this next election cycle.  We have to reach out and make sure that those less liberal voices are heard and know that there are solutions for the problems the face (or think they face).

I fear for my country and even for my world.  The populist movement seems to be taking over everywhere and yet, I am confident that it is still only a small (although seemingly very powerful) minority who support the racist, xenophobic, sexist and homophobic ideologies that are on the rise.  We need to work toward dis-empowering them and we can’t do that with hate speech, violence and infighting.  We can only do that with unity.

Peace and love

Allena

Ten Commandments of Poly

The other day I was musing about the 10 Commandments (I know, a weird thing to “muse” about.  It was a weird day) and started thinking about other types of commandments and came up with the following.  I tried to stay as close to the original in concept as I could.  What do you all think?

  1. You shall not put anyone above yourself. No partner is better than you are.
  2. You shall not create false equivalencies between partners. Everyone is in your life for their own unique reason.
  3. You shall not curse or verbally abuse a partner.
  4. Keep the sanctity of all of your relationships at the top of your thoughts.
  5. Honor all of your relationships.
  6. Do not “kill off” or erase former partners. All partners were/are with you for a reason.
  7. Do not break agreements, for that is equivalent to cheating.
  8. Do not steal your partners’ agency. You cannot impose your morals on them.
  9. Do not lie to your partners; integrity is of utmost importance.
  10. Do not covet your partners other partners without first talking to that partner.

Sex Positive Now — The Book!

One of the books I’m currently writing is Sex Positive Now.  This is a collaborative effort with Jeremy Shub from Melbourne Australia.   We realized that there is no book out there about sex positive culture and we decided to rectify that by creating a book that encompasses as much of sex positivity as we can.   The areas we hope to cover will include the history of sex positive culture; sex negativity and shame; taboos such as sex work and porn; self-worth, health and emotions; pleasure, fun and joy; sex, intimacy and relationships of all kinds; kink and BDSM; sacred sexuality, tantra and religion; and our various sex positive communities.  We hope to answer the question: What happens if we live in a sex positive world (I’ll give you a hint—Freedom!)

The book will contain essays and interviews by some of the most amazing Sex Positive people in the world, such as Susie Bright and my awesome cousin Veronica Monet (to just name two of our contributors) as well as musings by Jeremy and myself.

We want to be able to pay those who contribute essays to the book and we can’t do that without your help.  We’ve launched an Indiegogo and would love if you can contribute!

Here is the link to the Indiegogo site:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/sex-positive-now-book–2#/

Here is the link to our website so you can read more about what we’re up to!

http://sexpositivenow.com/

Thanks so much!

Horizontal Violence and Othering

This past Sunday I was honored to be the 2017 Keynote speaker for International Ms Leather and International Ms Bootblack Contest.   It was well received and I figure I should share it with all of you.  This is about the BDSM world I live in and it’s also more than that.  Since many of you are part of or have people close to you in marginalized communities, you may recognize some of what I’m talking about.

Good Morning!  Ready for my Sunday Sermon?  Well ready or not, here it comes.

First, a little bit about me.  I have been part of the BDSM/Leather world since 1989(well, I’ve been kinky all my life and I’m 64 and discovered that there were organizations that celebrate the stuff I love in 1989).  I’ve been speaking at colleges and around the country since 1992.  A long fucking time.  In those years I’ve learned a lot and experienced a lot.  I helped create the Center for Sex Positive Culture, The Foundation for Sex Positive Culture and the Seattle Erotic Art Festival.  And now that I’m “retired” (quotes around retired) I’m traveling and speaking even more.  Oh, and something personal about me.  I had breast cancer in 2011 and because of some of the lasting effects of chemo brain, I have occasional aphasia and forgetfulness, which means I’ll be referring to my notes a bit more than normal.  And, regarding my cancer, it was the various sex positive communities I belong to that got me through all of it.  I love the various communities that are part of my world.

This has to be one of the hardest keynotes I’ve ever written.  I had planned to write about Consent, which is an ongoing theme and issue in our various communities and then a series of events prompted me to talk about something that is I think of equal importance and that is not getting addressed as I think it should be.

Back in 2010 I was the IMsL Keynote speaker and I talked about Counting Our Blessings.  I was optimistic about the world and felt that our various communities had a lot to be thankful for.  We had a better President than we’ve had in years.  Our various communities were growing and becoming less threatening to the general public.  And even since 2010 we’ve had a shift in how the world looks at BDSM (no, I’m not going to talk about the 50 shades of grey, although my personal take on it may surprise you).   A study in 2013 from the Netherlands showed that BDSM practitioners scored better on certain indicators of mental health than those who were not kinky, which means overall we were found to be less neurotic, more open, more aware of and sensitive to rejection, more secure in our  relationships and have better overall well-being.  I think that’s pretty  awesome.

And now, 2017 the world has gotten a bit scary (a lot scary really) and there are forces out there who would like to see your various communities go away.  And just what are we doing about that?  I think we’re making it easier for them, sadly.

First, I want to repeat something I’ve said more than once already today.  Various Communities.  Many of us have this mistaken idea that there is one Leather Community or M/s Community or Poly Community or . . . well you get the picture.  And that way of looking, in my opinion, is part of the problem I’m going to talk about today as well as other issues we have in our various communities.  We have multiple communities in the Tribe, I’d call Leather, for example. There is no “one true way” to be Leather, or M/s or Poly or whatever and yet, by calling it a community (singular) it implies unity.   Which brings me to the topic I want to talk about today,

That is the “horizontal violence” and “othering” that I am seeing in our various communities.

What do I mean by horizontal violence?   Horizontal violence is displaced violence directed against one’s peers rather than one’s true adversaries.  It occurs within marginalized groups where members strike out at each other as a result of being or feeling oppressed. The oppressed become the oppressors of themselves and each other. Common behaviors that prevent positive change from occurring include gossiping, bullying, finger-pointing, backstabbing and shunning.  Also, the inability to celebrate the victories of our peers and at times even do things that will pull them back, not lift them up.  A friend of mine calls this Crabs In A Bucket.  When one crab tries to climb out of the bucket the other crabs will pull it back into the bucket.   It also includes what I call“othering”.   The tendency in our communities to look down on someone who is not “doing it right” or is “different” in how they approach BDSM, or Leather.    Our tendency to shame those around us

These behaviors recently have been on the rise.  Not just in our various Leather and BDSM  Communities but also in other marginalized communities that I’m in some way affiliated with.

The Sex Worker communities has had breakdown after breakdown in the last few years.  I was at their Desiree conference last year and the shaming that came out of the keynote speech created so much discourse that people left SWOP,  an organization that was created to advocate for sex workers and there were people in the hallway crying and the whole rest of the weekend became dysfunctional full of anger and sadness.  The keynote speaker had some very valid points and she had a right to say what she did as we all do.  Sadly she seemed to not care about the negative impact of her speech, since her speech had little to no solutions or suggestions on how to move forward it was mostly just shaming.  We need to also take responsibility for our actions and words and how they affect others, especially when we’re leaders and activists.

This was not just indicative of Sex Workers, this kind of shaming and blaming and othering and horizontal violence is happening in all of our communities.  I see this in the polyamory world, the goth communities, the gamers that I know and also in the Leather and BDSM world.   And it seems to be on the rise and getting worse.

Recently there has been a huge breakdown in the Portland BDSM/Leather communities with factions being created and people taking sides.  I have friends on both sides of this mess and while I don’t know all the details and I can’t say who is at fault in all of  this I can say that publicly calling into question whether someone had breast cancer to the point that she felt it was necessary to post her diagnosis on Facebook breaks my heart.  No matter what happened and no matter who is in the “wrong”, that action was inconceivable & unconscionable.      That’s horizontal violence at its worse.

And then there is the “othering” that happens all the time.  Defining ourselves by who we aren’t.  I’m polyamorous, not a swinger.  I’m an escort, not a street walker.   I’m a stripper not a whore. I’m a Master not just a Top.  I’m a kinkster but I’m not into “that” kind of play.  Etc. etc. etc.  Why do we have to describe ourselves by who we are not?  We can’t we talk about who we are and celebrate who others are. What are we afraid of?

I’ve been in the world of BDSM/Leather for over 25 years and this isn’t new.  I’ve seen and talked before about how our communities eat their own.,  How we act at times that it’s a zero sum game and there isn’t enough of whatever it is we have to go around.  And yet, it seems more prevalent lately.  This started before the election and yet I think it has a lot to do with the election.

There has been a shift in our world that is pretty profound.  (I keep saying that we’ve gone through some kind of black hole or time warp and are in an alternative universe).

Some things that have shifted are amazing.  Marriage equality for example.  Pot is legal in over half of the united states.  And I would have never expected to hear our Attorney General or our former President talk positively about transgender rights.   And when we have positive forward movement we get backlash.   It’s inevitable — that when we make steps forward there are those who want to push us back.

And that is what we are seeing all over the world today.   The advent of the Trump presidency is just part of it.  There seems to be a nationalist movement in countries all over the world.  Trump is just one of many leaders who (intentionally or not) are fomenting racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of violence.  What does this have to do with our communities and this topic?  Well, like I said, horizontal violence is committed by those who feel marginalized.  And all of the communities I’ve mentioned are more marginalized than ever.   Even though we’ve made great strides in public awareness and are even working at changing the laws through organizations like the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom we all are feeling the brunt of the changes in our political system and our country and world at large.  Overt acts of racism, sexism, xenophobia,  etc are more prevalent than ever.  We are more likely to be targeted because of our sexual lifestyles now than ever before.  Especially those of us who are doubly or triply marginalized, due to our race or gender and our kink.  So we react by lashing out.  Not at those who are out to get us.  No, we lash out at each other.  We bully, we other, we shame, we shun.   We will not survive if we continue on this path.  We will do their work for them and destroy ourselves so they don’t have to. They win if we eviscerate ourselves

So what do we do?  We fight back.  We become part of local protest and political groups and we do our best to be politically and socially aware.  More importantly we take a good long look at ourselves.  What can we do as individuals, leaders and communities to improve our lot and stop the horizontal violence and othering?

Here’s a few places to start.

Othering.  We have to realize that all of our kinks are all okay as long as they are consensual.  That no one way is better than another way.  We need to talk to each other.  Get to know that person who does “it” really differently than us.  It’s hard to other someone when you understand who they are and why they do what they do.

We need to realize that we do not have to be better than someone else to be great.

This doesn’t mean that we have to be all inclusive.  We can still have our separate space.  We can still have M/s space or Queer space, or little space.  That is not being exclusionary that is celebrating our differences.

The horizontal violence is a bit tougher.  It’s pretty ingrained within our communities and takes consciousness.  Being conscious of those around you and how your actions and words affect them are the first steps.  Taking the time to talk to each other.  To listen.  REALLY LISTEN! To be present and allow others to thrive, even if you feel  you are not thriving at the time. We also need to talk to those who differ politically from us.  Believe it or not, not all kinsters are liberals.

We need to address issues in our communities sooner –when the issues first arise, not after they’ve festered and become a nasty boil that when pops sprays puss on the whole community.

We need to educate ourselves, our leaders and communities on Nonviolent communication, Intersectionality  and  Social Justice practices.

Individually we need to speak up immediately when we notice inappropriate behavior, even when it’s from a leader. Especially when it’s from leader.  We need to hold our leaders to an even higher standard.  Many times our leaders are personalities not leaders and we need to be willing ask them to step down if they are not willing to grow and learn.   And our community organizations can create policies for not only dealing with consent violations but also with acts of horizontal violence and even create mediation policies so we don’t end up like Portland.

We have to realize that our actions and words can have consequences both negative and positive.  A good friend sent me this letter recently that shows how even the best of our leaders can affect people negatively by othering and unintentional horizontal violence.

This is what he sent me:

I was an event a couple years ago and decided to attend a workshop on Leather History put on by several of my long-time friends. If I remember correctly, there were 3 men and 1 woman.- all were gay and all extremely well respected leatherfolk. I personally know and had great respect for all.

But, to my complete surprise, these folks all began some serious het-bashing. Their rants included:

Hets had no right to wear leather,

Hets had no right to pretend the Leather history was their history, and

Hets mess up the energy in play spaces and should create their own space.

That was the gist of it – that hets had no right to be in the Leather Community and should create something else for themselves. There were no exceptions stated – it was “all”, not “most” or “with some exceptions”.

I was dumbfounded. Here I was, sitting in the front row – a national titleholder and presenter, former NCSF staffer, contributor to LA&M, a het, and someone who always gave full and accurate credit to the gay community that came before me in every single interaction or workshop I conducted.

I haven’t attending a community event since, and probably won’t. 
I’m sure none of the people on the panel meant for anyone to react this way. Most of our othering and horizontal violence is not intentional.  Like I said, being conscious of how our words may affect others is a part of it.  Which is why I’m not naming names during this speech.  My intent is not to shame anyone for their actions, it’s to make everyone aware that there are things that need to be done to make our communities stronger.

We have to be willing to change.    We have to be willing to put our egos aside and admit that we are not all powerful and all knowing. We have to be willing to make mistakes.  It’s okay.  We have to look at some of our institutionalized ways of being and see where we can make positive change.

I’m going to do my part.  I will freely admit that I “other” people at times.  I make jokes about overly pompous Doms and One True Way poly people and that is not how change comes about.  It comes through education, talking and patience.  It comes with being willing to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.  It means acknowledging not only the wisdom of our elders but the wisdom of our younger members who bring totally new and exciting voices to our various communities.  There is room for all of us, no matter what we think.

I have a personal mission statement.  To bring joy to sexuality and to make a difference in the world.  I challenge all of you to look and see what it is that you can do to affect change your community.  What is your personal mission statement?  How can you a difference in the world?

Thank you.