Welcome to The Villages.
The largest gated retirement community in the United States stretches across three zip codes, 32 miles, and is home to (as of 2017) 115,000 residents, all of them ages 55 and up. The Villages, over the past few decades, has made a name for itself for several reasons (it’s even the topic of a recent documentary, Some Kind of Heaven). But perhaps notoriously is the reputation it’s garnered for the sexual health of its inhabitants. For years, after all, some have considered the retirement community the STI capital of the country.
As the complex started expanding in the ’90s, the STI rates (particularly for syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia) for those ages 55 and up in the state of Florida rapidly grew, leading one gynecologist to quip that she treated more cases of herpes at The Villages than she did while practicing in Miami, the New York Post reported in 2009.
The Post also interviewed several residents (or “Villagers,” as they’re called) about their escapades, with one noting a “black market” for Viagra. In 2014, The Daily Mail reported a similar exposé, also noting that the community had a “thriving swingers scene,” among some far more risqué exploits. Since its rapid growth, it seems, this community—which has 12 Championship golf courses, three libraries, and one hospital on its grounds—has been notorious for the sexual health of its inhabitants.
But the rumors may not be true—and they probably aren’t really quite so dramatic as urban legend would have it. As one blog recently put it, the numbers don’t add up when you look at the rate of STIs across age demographics in the state.
It’s more likely that everything should be taken with a grain (or perhaps a teaspoon) of salt: tabloids are likely to skew data and anecdotes, and blogs (especially those that happen to be a guide to The Villages, like the above referenced) are likely to shift things into a more positive light. While The Villages may not be the STI capital of the U.S.—if there is such a thing anyway—that still doesn’t diminish the fact that the continued taboo of sexual wellness amongst older adults makes it more likely for STIs to spread amid them.
The United States has a growing population of older adults, and according to the CDC as of 2020, that demographic has recently experienced all-time high rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. This is likely because adults over the age of 50 have weakened immune systems, making them more prone to infection, they may be lacking in updated sexual education, and they (falsely) may think they’re less at risk. Thinking that older adults don’t have sex only makes them more prone to STIs because it eludes them of the resources that would be helpful in prevention.
Students on most college campuses can easily access STI testing, education, and methods of contraception. By comparison, with its idealized form of community-living, The Villages has been compared to a co-ed experience for retirees. While it may not live up to its most negative reputation, it could likely do it some good to incorporate sex ed into its programming.