Everything You Need to Know about Sex in the Golden Years

Our Grandparents are Having Sex?! Gross!

Our parents and grandparents are too often marginalized for continuing their intimacy into their golden years. We seem to want to ignore how we even arrived on this planet. Where does this marginalization come from? Is it part of us from a young age? Many of us may recall cringing at the thought of our parents having sexual intercourse despite their sex being the sole reason for our existence.

Why do we think it’s inappropriate for our grandparents to have intercourse? Does ageing for some strange reason constitute a reason to stop intimacy? This philosophy carries over to the staff of nursing homes too: “Sometimes, staff members are repelled by or disapprove of thinking about older adults having sex in the nursing home. Often, administrators decide whether it is easier to actively discourage or ignore sexual expression. In a case that happened in 2011, a Minnesota care unit called Keystone Communities involved a man fondling six women. Rather than assessing whether the event was consensual, they banned all nudity, caressing and kissing. The facility was cited by the state for not being able to report potential abuse and not having policies in place or staff training.” source: Senior Living There you have it. Rather than assess the incident, engage in a meaningful discussion, the home banned everything that had to do with intimacy. These sorts of decisions are inappropriate and frankly incorrect.

As a society, we have created unspoken, unnatural, and inappropriate guidelines for our ageing population that puts a lack of intimacy high on the list. Come on people, we are getting older, not colder. It’s time we change our attitudes toward intimacy in our aging population.

A New Standard for Intimacy and Intercourse in Retirement Homes

The Hebrew Home in New York is quietly setting a new standard for intimacy and intercourse in the Nursing Home by implementing much-needed guidelines and rules for its residents. Their philosophy is rather simple - residents should be allowed to do the same things they would do at home. “The Hebrew Home through a grant from the New York State Department of Health created a comprehensive staff training video/DVD called "Freedom of Sexual Expression: Dementia and Resident Rights in Long Term Care Facilities."

 “The Hebrew Home's policy and video provide the educational foundation and standard of practice for residential health care facilities across the state and the nation.” source: Very Well. Residents who engage in relationships in the Hebrew Home are relocated from shared rooms to a private room. Privacy policies are enforced - knock before you enter and wait a moment. At the root of this thinking is the notion that residents have the right to engage in intimacy. Finally!

Will the Hebrew Home of New York pave the way for a national movement, one in which we accept the need for intimacy in ageing population? We certainly hope so. It’s time for all retirement homes and communities to implement guidelines and rules for both the residents and the caretakers. Privacy, protection and safety need to be at the forefront of that discussion.

Sexual Consent in Nursing Homes is a Real but Manageable Issue

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It’s difficult to protect the rights of residents who may suffer from cognitive disabilities such as Dementia, Down Syndrome, Autism, Traumatic brain injury, and Dementia.  

Now 79 year old, Henry Rayhons, former representative of the state, was charged with third-degree sexual assault for having sex with his wife who had late stage alzheimer's at the time. The case was an important one as it brought up key issues surrounding consent, privacy and safety. The care center that Donna, Henry’s wife, lived in, remarked that she was incapable of giving consent given the stage of her Alzheimer's. Her daughter agreed with the care center. “Gayle Doll, director of the Center on Aging at Kansas State University, said a person with dementia might not assent with words, but with body language or facial expression.” source: NY Times. Henry’s family issued the statement, saying, “Accusing a spouse of a crime for continuing a relationship with his spouse in a nursing home seems to us to be incredibly illogical and unnatural, as well as incredibly hurtful.” source: NY Times  When Henry was found not guilty in 2014, it was decided that continuing his marriage and the intimacy that existed was not a crime.

The Time is Now to Implement National Guidelines and Rules Regarding Sex in Nursing Homes

The case is more important than the individual actions as it paves the way for an open discussion regarding consent and safety. Does a partner suffering from alzheimer's have feelings but not enough judgement to consent? Who makes the decision that one’s judgement is impaired?

“Usually, homes apply a few principles when determining how appropriate contact is with someone that has dementia. The most widely used standard is used and this is called ‘substituted judgement.’ In this type of judgement you look at the previous decision-making style and values that a person previously including whether or not they had extramarital affairs. Another method has to do with using what dementia experts and ethicists call ‘best interests,’ considerations are then made for what is best for the person at the moment, taking into account how dementia can change personalities dramatically and at the same time ignoring past values.” source: Senior Living

We need compassionate policies that understand the right to intimacy and touch. We need incentivized, caring staff members who will get to know the residents in care centers. We need increased privacy guidelines such as knocking before entering a room. Residents should be respected and treated with dignity, much in the same way they would at home.  

The caregiving staff need more training and should be able to identify when a resident is incapable of providing consent. This comes from devoted staff but it also comes from an increase in education for the caretakers. This further paves the way for informed discussions with the family so that expectations are set. The time is now to implement national guidelines for intimacy for our ageing population. It’s time to create a dialogue and to make much needed changes.

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