Clean Water, Clean Sex, Clean Undies

Florida's “Condom Grandma'' speaks out on AIDS prevention

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, senior citizens comprise 14 percent of all AIDS cases. In Florida, which has one of the largest senior populations in the nation, the percentage in some counties is even higher. And one concerned citizen is taking action: Miriam Schulet, 85. For the past seven years this energetic great-grandmother has been volunteering for Broward County’s Senior HIV Intervention Project—SHIP—in a very visible way. Schuler distributes condoms and literature about AIDS prevention from tables set up in libraries and senior centers. Moreover, she also demonstrates how to use the condoms. At first, she says, she felt shy talking about such matters in public. But now she is known around town as the “Condom Grandma.” She has become something of a maven on the subject of safe sex. “Picture this: a woman is older, and alone. She needs a man,” says Schuler. “But she was brought up during a time when you only used condoms to prevent pregnancy. But she has no idea who a date has slept with.” Schuler knows several older women who contracted AIDS during unprotected sex. Now, AIDS prevention has become her mission.

“I always have condoms my bag, and I give them out. At the dentist, the podiatrist. Yesterday, I distributed them at the beauty parlor,” Schuler told LILITH, She keeps a bowl of them on her coffee table. When my single friends come, they help themselves.” If somebody tells her that they don’t need any, she asks them if they have children, or grandchildren in college—”where, you know, they experiment.”

“If they say yes, I tell them, when you send your grandchildren a check—and what Jewish grandparent doesn’t send grandchildren a check once in a while,” Schuler laughs—”also put a condom into the envelope.”