Family doc's hip hop video urges safe sex for seniors
She may not have the tight rhyming skills of Jay-Z, or the video budget of Kanye West, but a family doctor in Asheville, N.C. is trying to spread an important message with a homemade music video: seniors can get sexually transmitted infections too.
To the tune of “Ice, Ice, Baby,” Dr. Shannon Dowler -- aka “RapDktaD” – wants seniors and their doctors to know that STI rates are on the rise.
“Stop, collaborate and listen/ RapDktaD's rap intention/ Calling out all you fellas and ladies/ STD's are tearing through folks in their 80’s,” she raps in the hallway of her office, while throwing condoms at the camera
On the delicate topic of “vaginal atrophy,” she counsels: “If you have a problem, lube might solve it/ See your family doc if it doesn’t resolve it.” And she wraps up her song with: “No more excuses, you know to take precautions/ Rap Doctor out, hope your golden years are awesome.”
Dowler is tapping into a message that public health authorities have been trying to spread for years: there is a lot more going on in retirement communities than just bingo. Statistics show the rate of sexually transmitted diseases among seniors has been climbing for years.
As Dowler’s video notes, chlamydia rates have risen 30 per cent in seniors in the last decade, while syphillis rates have more than doubled in men and women over the age of 50.
Ian Culbert, the executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association, says the problem of STI’s among seniors is not a new one, but it’s still not a topic getting talked about much.
Seniors are often surviving longer than their marriages do, and many are staying healthy and staying sexually active, often with more than one partner.
“Seniors are aging well, staying healthy longer, and being sexually active is just a normal part of human development,” Culbert told CTV News Channel from Ottawa Tuesday.
If seniors aren’t using condoms and getting STI checkups, they can unwittingly pass on infections they didn’t realize they had.
“Many sexually transmitted infections are asymptomatic for long periods of time,” he says.
Family doctors too need to spread the word, he says. While physicians typically counsel younger patients about sexual health and avoiding infections, they sometimes have trouble talking to sexually active seniors about the same things.
“In North America, we love having sex, but we’re not very comfortable talking about sex especially to someone who might be old enough to be your own parent. So those conversations aren’t happening and that’s really leading to some significant increases in STI’s,” Culbert said.
A 2013 report from Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer found much the same thing.
“Negative perceptions about older adults’ sexuality persist, and stigma, embarrassment and discrimination can create barriers for older adults to discuss sexual health with their healthcare providers,” the report authors wrote.
“General practitioners also report being reluctant to discuss sex and STIs with older (particularly female) patients.”
Public awareness campaigns tend to target youth, not seniors, and then there’s the problem of helping seniors access sexual health products.
Culbert says residents of retirement or nursing homes – where STI’s can spread easily -- often can’t buy condoms, which is why he thinks they should be made freely available to residents.
“If they are not able to get out or are too shy to ask at the drug store, they should be able to know where to pick one up at the nurses’ station or wherever they might be kept,” he said.