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Youshouldknow.ca: Sexual health science, culture and news for women edging to middle age, parents and educators. Find info on sexually transmitted infections, relationship dynamics, aging and sexual health, and sex education.

Admitting What You Don’t Know

safe sex starts in your mindI read a story on Friday about 48 year old Rachel Dilling in the UK who had no idea she could be at risk for HIV because she thought only people in Africa got it. As the article’s author points out, before we readers jump on the “Whaaat? How could she possibly be so ignorant?” wagon, ask yourself how much you know about HIV transmission and how to look after yourself. Apparently Rachel is stepping up as an HIV educator specifically because she was so misinformed, and good on her, I say. Her admission of vulnerability is something we could all take to heart. She wants to tell women in her age group that HIV is something they need to think about.

I took part in a webinar last week that pointed out some of the very things Rachel now knows and shares with others. Dr. Mary Kestler of BC’s Oak Tree Clinic (a specialized care centre for women with HIV) talked about risk factors for women. She said women over 45 have 4 – 8X higher risk of HIV acquisition than younger women. Why? It’s both physiology and practice. Physiologically, the vagina and cervical tissue are thinner than in younger women, less elastic, and less naturally lubricated due to changing hormones. Sex can cause microscopic tears in the tissue, creating an opening for HIV, which is present in semen.

In practice, post-menopausal women and their partners may be more than happy to ditch the condoms. But sex without condoms means ejaculate has direct and prolonged contact with vaginal cervical tissue, increasing risk of HIV and any other STI in the mix. Condoms protect against most STIS (HPV and herpes can be transmitted through skin-to skin contact, so condoms reduce risk but don’t always eliminate it).

Yes it can happen to any woman of any age. You need to know how to protect yourself. Do you?

 

- Janet  |  @janet_madsen

 

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