The year was 2006 and a Villages gynecologist was about to make a serious dent in the image of Florida’s Friendliest Hometown – one that wasn’t going to be welcomed with open arms.
During an interview, the OB-GYN reported that she’d treated more cases of herpes and human papillomavirus at The Villages than she did when she practiced in Miami.
It was a statement that she’d later somewhat recant and clarify, but the damage was done. There was a heightened awareness of the possibility of promiscuity in The Villages and the story spread like wildfire.
Suddenly, adult children were calling their parents to find out what was going on. And some retirees quickly rethought plans about where to spend the best years of their lives.
It wasn’t long before crews from Orlando television stations descended on the community and the story became even more legendary. There was talk of a black market for Viagra. And sordid tales of prostitutes frequenting Katie Belle’s at night quickly spread across the community, with some residents saying they fully believed that one to be true.
A primary care physician in the community with ties to The Villages brass did his part to kill the urban myth about rampant STDs in the mega retirement community. He was quoted as saying that neither he nor his colleagues had seen any kind of increase in STDs in the 5,000 patients they treated.
Statistics from the Florida Department of Health seemed to support the doctor’s claim, as the rate of syphilis and gonorrhea cases in the tri-county area had remained steady from 2000 to 2004. And while cases of chlamydia had risen in Lake County since 2000, the numbers remained flat in Sumter and Marion counties.
For the next couple of years, the shady talk of rampant sexually transmitted diseases continued. But as it finally started to die off, the community suffered a double whammy of sorts that brought it all back to life.
In 2008, author Andrew D. Blechman released a book called “Leisureville” that told sordid tales of nightlife in The Villages. Blechman’s neighbors had moved to The Villages from New England and he paid them a visit. He became confused and expressed outrage over their decision to live in a gated community of close to 100,000 people – with no children.
Blechman then spent time in The Villages and claims to have been at several hotspots and watched seniors swap phone numbers or leave together for the evening. And he spoke with a woman who was balancing a pencil between her breasts that claimed to work for a local medical center where cases of STDs were out of control.
Blechman also told the exploits of a 63-year-old bachelor known as “Mr. Midnight.” He shares sordid details of the Villager’s sex life. And he accompanies Mr. Midnight for a night out a Katie Belle’s, where Blechman compares the experience to attending a keg party with the high school quarterback.
As talk of Blechman’s book circulated throughout the community and Villagers made a run on local bookstores to get a copy, the second whammy came to life.
The New York Post released a story with the headline “Romance and STDs: Inside Florida’s Wild Retirees Getaway.” If Blechman’s book cracked the door open for the STD rumors to roar back to life, the New York Post article flung it wide open and put just about every sordid detail possible on the table.
It talked about Villagers having sex in their golf carts. It claimed that the ratio of women to men in the community was 10 to 1. And it offered this assessment: “Welcome to ground zero for geriatrics who are seriously getting it on.”
Several supposed Villagers were quoted in the article. “Dave,” who refused to give his real name, bragged about his sexual escapades with women in their 70s. Jean, a 63-year-old retired teacher, said that most men wanted a “one-night meaningful relationship.” And her friend, Louise, said most of the single men in The Villages were “cheaper than heck” and the women were “extremely brazen.”
In 2014, with the urban legend of STDs still alive and well, the “Sex on the Square” story broke. It centered around the arrests of Villager Margaret “Peggy” Klemm and Summerfield’s David Alan Bobilya for engaging in sexual intercourse in the Pavilion at Lake Sumter Landing Market Square. Both served jail time as a result of the escapade.
And if that wasn’t enough, later in the year Villagers Charm Ann Gilbert and James Richard Adams were arrested and accused of having a sexual escapade on a utility box at the intersection of Morse Boulevard and El Camino Real.
Neither story had anything to do with STDs. But both served to fuel the rumor of promiscuity and wild times in The Villages, which by then was frequently being referred to as a quasi-college-like town for seniors who wanted to play hard and party even harder.
In December 2017 – with the STD rumor amazingly still circulating across the community – an article published in Senior’s Health took on the controversy. It pointed out that stories about a high rate of STD cases in the community were likely exaggerated. It claimed that some news media outlets took advantage of the opportunity to sensationalize a juicy story that was sure to grab readers’ attention. And it pointed out that with 80,000 residents in the community at the time, it should come as no surprise that a certain percentage would be interested in things like alcohol and sex.
The Seniors Health article also said that the majority of people living in The Villages wouldn’t be affected by STDs even if an issue existed in the first place. It pointed out that many were in monogamous relationships or married and loyal to their spouses. And it said that while many were, in fact, dating, they were practicing safe sex.
Today – 13 years after the gynecologist made the statement about STDs that unveiled a sexual revolution of sorts in The Villages and made worldwide headlines – new Villagers still hear the rumors about promiscuity among their neighbors.
But it’s important to note that the sprawling community is in a heavy growth mode and is now home to more than 125,000 people. So like any town in the country, it’s going to have a certain number residents who sleep around and acquire STDs.
But over the years, statistics haven’t proven the STD rumor to be true. And there’s no reason to believe that will drastically change anytime soon.