Nearly 50 women gathered at the Bucks Country Free Library in Doylestown in mid-March to hear a panel of speakers revisit "Sex and the Single Girl."
Moderated by Eleanor Levie, chairwoman of the National Council of Jewish Women for Greater Philadelphia — one of the event sponsors; others included the League of Women Voters and Planned Parenthood, both of Bucks County — those in attendance learned about the sex lives of women at two ends of the age spectrum: teens and senior citizens.
According to Levie, these are "the two most vulnerable groups open to danger" when it comes to issues of sexuality. Levie referred back to the controversial 1962 book, Sex and the Single Girl, by Helen Gurley Brown, while introducing this topic, which remains a controversial one some 40-plus years later.
Panel member Grace Adofo, an OB/GYN in private practice in Chalfont who is affiliated with Doylestown Hospital and trained at Einstein Medical College at Yeshiva University, brought a unique perspective on women's health, relaying stories of both young and older women paying visits to her office carrying with them similar levels of embarrassment and misinformation.
Adofo is "amazed at teenagers who are smart and well-educated, yet still put themselves in risky situations."
On the older end of the age grid, she sees many "seniors who need knowledge to protect themselves," citing evidence of rising incidences of herpes and HIV in older groups.
Working diligently to educate young women on issues of sexuality was panel member Meredith Kramer, a social worker studying for her doctorate in human-sexuality education at Widener University.
Kramer cited a 2007 federally funded study that showed abstinence-only programs currently taught in Pennsylvania public schools are not working.
Kramer explained her belief in programs that teach abstinence and contraception at age-appropriate levels, from kindergarten through grade 12. She carefully noted that "teaching about sex is not promoting it."
Such educational information is also necessary for the senior population, according to panelist Maggie Boyer, the former director of training and education for Planned Parenthood of Bucks County, now a volunteer counselor to seniors.
Boyer refuted the cultural assumption that seniors are not interested in sexuality. According to the AARP, one in three men and one in four senior women have sex once a week.
As in the case of teenagers, it is often difficult for elders to communicate with their doctors because of embarrassment.
The lack of staff training in nursing homes only adds to the problem of poor communications. Boyer did find one center — the Hebrew Home for the Jewish Aged in Brooklyn — with an established policy on sexual expression for residents and hopes more are in the works.
Sharon Barker from the United Way and Maggie Groff of Planned Parenthood of Bucks County is fighting for the implementation of a "211 program," which would allow individuals to learn about issues of health and human services, among other topics, by simply dialing these digits from their telephones. Pennsylvania and Wyoming are the only states in the U.S. without such a program.
Planned Parenthood's Groff is fighting for two bills now proposed in the Pennsylvania legislature that seek to encourage sexuality education in schools.
Groff urged attendees to push for this legislation, telling the audience that "a grandmother talking about safe sex is the best advocate in the world."