Early In 2005, the general public began to hear about the crisis in HIV among women over 50. Here I am in September 2007, more than two years later, wearing one of my provocative Condom Amulets, enjoying the 69th birthday party for my friend, Bethene (her blog). Perfect setting for my art-in-the-public-interest campaign for Safe Sex. Thirty-five women there--all over 50.
"Sex, Seniors, & the HIV Crisis," was the title of a Gray Panthers' meeting in April 2005. Judy Lear and I were co-chairs of the New York chapter. We worked very hard to convince a local non-profit to loan us a large enough space; they were sure few would attend. Over 100 people showed up for New York City's first general public meeting on this issue.
Jane Fowler, a retired journalist who is HIV positive, came from Kansas City to tell her powerful story. She has spoken to groups all over the country about what happened to her post-divorce and dating "a longtime family friend." Around that time, I had the idea of knitting Condom Amulets for Safe Sex! as an indirect, unexpected way to get conversations started in social gatherings. In 2006, my blog, A Little Red Hen, followed with its "Safe Sex" category. It has chronicled my ongoing efforts--including pictures of amulets as I continued to make them.
I've thought about why this aspect of the AIDS problem seemed so personal. In 1966, I got married. That was the time my single friends and I only worried about not getting pregnant. But, if my life had taken a different turn, I could be one of these unattached women in their 70s (yes, older people continue to have a sex life)-- or 50s or 60s-- who are dating. Women I know who are recently divorced or widowed and begin dating again usually worry about two things--whether to try online dating or of they look young enough for that scene.
AIDS? "That was something terrible for gay men--back in the 1980s." STDs (sexually transmitted diseases)? "What's that?" Women informed enough to ask a doctor for an HIV test often get an ageist response, "A nice Jewish (fill in your own ethnicity) woman like you doesn't need one of those!" (Do your doctors talk about STDs and cancer?) Do you ask a prospective partner if he's recently been tested?
Knit A Condom Amulet, joins Little Red as a chicklet, a blogzine for more focus on Safe Sex. The debut of the site was November 30, 2007. Its goal: encourage other knitters to use leftover yarn (or buy one on-sale ball) and make these, get the message out. Here are free patterns for Condom Amulets. Copy them to make an amulet for yourself, family, and friends of all ages and sexes. Four knitting friends have joined me to send the idea to go out into the world. We need your participation. Use our ideas and your own to spotlight Safe Sex -- for HIV awareness, protection from STDs--and to avoid accidental pregnancy.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of Americans over 50 who are infected with HIV have grown over 5 times (16,300 people in 1995, to 90,600 in 2003). While seniors represent about 14% of people with HIV, senior women represent 18%. Read more at this site.
[Thanks to Anita Jaffe, NYC grandmother, who took my photo.]
Amulets, a note: In her book, Amulets, Sacred Charms of Power and Protection, Sheila Paine who has done extensive research around the globe writes:
The story of amulets is a continuous one from prehistoric times...[they] survive in huge numbers from Ancient Egypt...were used as ritual offerings to deities and spirits for protection....
This contemporary painted metal amulet from Oaxaca, Mexico, has imagery that resembles an illustration in the Paine book of two poisonous snakes-- stone from Ubekistan, ca. 2000 B.C. Historically, natrual materials were favored like these moonsnails. A hole might be drilled for a cord to wear around the neck, a piece of paper with a saint's picture stuffed inside. It is in that spirit of warding off evil that these Condom Amulets have been designed. Keeping a condom on your person assures your good health. Be well.