STORY: PAT JOCELYN AND GARY CORSAIR
A torrent of articles and at least one book have portrayed The Villages as a breeding ground for “Seniors Gone Wild,” a place where men pop black-market Viagra, couples host sex orgies and single seniors bed-hop every night.
That urban legend dates to 2006, when a gynecologist in The Villages told a reporter she treats more cases of herpes and human papillomavirus than she did while practicing in Miami. Her remarks went national. Ever since, The Villages has had two reputations — a Disney World for adults … and an after-hours, no-rules playpen.
That second, scintillating reputation picked up steam recently when a resident of The Villages and an almost senior were arrested for allegedly having sex in the most public of places, the gazebo in the middle of Lake Sumter Landing Market Square. That story went international.
Let’s face it, sex and sensationalism sell. The unique and unusual often grab the attention of the press, and the reading public. Toss in the fact The Villages is spread across three counties and is the fastest-growing retirement community in the United States (more than 100,000 strong and growing) — well, that just makes Villagers a real good target.
“It’s time to set the record straight.”
— Pat Jocelyn
Laura Hoexter, a 64-year-old widow who moved to The Villages five years ago, hasn’t met one swinger among the 700-plus members of The Single Baby Boomers Club.
“I’ve heard about the stories and I’m surprised,” Hoexter says. “I’ve (told people), ‘I know what you’re talking about, but honestly it might be 1 percent of the people who live here.’”
Finally, a statistic … albeit one off the top of one Villager’s head.
That’s about the best you can hope for.
In Florida, health and disease data are compiled county by county, or by regions including several counties. There’s no way to know exactly how many cases of sexually transmitted diseases — or any disease — have occurred in The Villages. Or Leesburg. Or Wildwood. Or Mount Dora. Or any other community.
“The data are collected by the county and The Villages encompasses three counties,” says Paul Butler, senior public health manager and public information officer for Lake County. “It’s really hard to draw a conclusion based on that data.”
Yet people do draw conclusions when they hear a statistic like this one: 23 percent of all new HIV infections reported in Florida were among people aged 50 and older.
Pair a statistic like that with a gynecologist’s comment from 2006, and tack on a juicy story from a friend of your neighbor who saw a lounge lizard flirting at a bar, and voilà, the Swinging Villagers myth lives another day.
“We may be a retirement community, but we’re not immune to things that happen in the rest of the country.”
— John Hall
The reality: We don’t know how many new HIV cases were reported in The Villages. We don’t know how many people are having sex, safe or unprotected. It’s impossible to know.
What we know is what public health officials tell us: that The Villages reputation as a hotbed of sexual promiscuity is greatly exaggerated.
But what about the “23 percent of all new HIV infections being among Floridians aged 50 and older” statistic? What about it? There are 6.9 million Floridians over the age of 50, and 6.8 million of them do not live in The Villages.
When it comes to interpreting data, one must remember the words of Aaron Levenstein, who said; “Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.”
So are there any data that tell us where we stand? Not really.
There were 94 new cases of HIV in Lake, Marion and Sumter counties in 2012. Residents of The Villages comprise about 1/7th of the population in those three counties.
There doesn’t appear to be an HIV epidemic.
Richard Willis, Florida Department of Health HIV/AIDS surveillance officer for Florida regions 3 and 13 (which includes The Villages), feels there’s no significant difference in senior HIV rates in The Villages when compared to the rest of Florida.
“I do believe The Villages area is in line with the rest of the state,” Willis says. “We’re seeing a bit of an increase, but we’re seeing that across the board statewide.”
It’s the same with STDs. In 2013, Lake, Marion and Sumter reported 11 more new cases of STDs than reported in 2012, according to the Florida Department of Health
So yes, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV have increased slightly in the tri-county area The Villages is spread across, but public health officials aren’t alarmed.
“There are a lot of contributing factors to those increases,” Willis says. “We have newer (and more effective) testing technology and new recording requirements from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Plus, the Department of Health is encouraging more people to get tested. The more people tested and the increased use of better technology to detect HIV translates to higher numbers of (documented) cases.”
Growth is also a significant factor. According to the University of Florida, in Sumter County alone, the population increased 12.5 percent between 2010 and 2013. More people means more golfers, bowlers, volunteers, artists and … more STDs.
“We may be a retirement community, but we’re not immune to things that happen in the rest of the country,” says John Hall, a single 64-year-old who has lived in The Villages eight years. “For some reason, when things that can be perceived negatively do happen (here), they get a lot of press. It’s unfortunate because the vast number of people who live here lead responsible lives.”
And some — evidently a small percentage — swing.
Just ask “Carl,” a Katie Belle’s regular who sees nothing wrong with seniors hooking up.
“Good for them,” he says. “Let them go home and have fun if they want to. What’s the harm in that?”
Ronnie Glenn feels the same way. He’s a 69-year-old single who lives near The Villages and goes out about four times a week. He was at City Fire (another popular nightspot in The Villages, with locations in Lake Sumter Landing and Brownwood town squares) when he talked to us.
“I‘m a one-woman guy and don’t do that kind of thing,” he says. “But for those that do, I have no problem with that. If that’s what they want to do, it’s their life — let them live it.”