Sex in Retirement Homes: Taboo or Trendy?

Over the past few decades, sex in retirement homes has become a prevalent topic across the United States. The innovation of drugs such as Viagra have sparked a shift of societal norms surrounding sexual encounters for seniors. Winnie Hu, a New York Times reporter, wrote an article addressing this disputed matter. She stating that “Many (retirement homes) have already loosened daily regimens to give residents more choice over, say, what time to bathe or what to eat for dinner. The next step for some is to allow residents the option of having sex, and to provide support for those who do”. If sex is a natural part of life, why should it have to stop once you enter a retirement home? Many say it shouldn’t and with more seniors sharing their sexual experiences, health and consent in retirement homes have become heavily debated issues.

Sexual Health:

With more sex comes more risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases. Unfortunately, STD rates in retirement homes have been increasing rapidly. According to an article written by Mattie Quinn, a public health reporter, “Between the years 2007 and 2011, rates of chlamydia increased 31 percent, and syphilis cases rose 52 percent” and these numbers are continuing to rise. Quinn also claims that seniors contract STDs more easily than middle-aged and younger individuals due to their weaker immune systems. Almost every college and university mandates sexual health programming to teach students about safe sex, but we often avoid teaching safe sex in retirement homes entirely. If the STD risks for college-aged individuals and seniors are the same, why aren’t we just as concerned with our grandparents as we are with our college students? Retirement homes need to start providing education and protection for their residents in order to help lower the risk. Online videos that teach sexual education and providing free condoms are both easy ways for retirement homes to accomplish this goal.

Consent:

The #MeToo movement has highlighted a major societal flaw in the United States in regards to the importance of consent in every sexual encounter. The movement has created a platform for us as a nation to address issues of power in various industries and the need to teach individuals how to gain consent from a very young age. The #MeToo has affected those of all generations, often providing individuals with the courage to come forward as survivors decades after their assault occurred. The #MeToo movement has raised many questions about consent in retirement homes. Many retirement homes have even implemented “sexual expression policies” in order to help their patients remain both intimate and safe with their partners. Are individuals who experience memory loss able to consent to having sex? According to the Alzheimer's Association website, "Over 50% of people living in retirement homes experience dementia or other forms of memory loss". What happens when an individual does not remember consenting to a sexual encounter? Should retirement homes prohibit sexual intercourse for residents with dementia? Is this fair to dementia patients? There is no right answer to any of these questions. Prohibiting dementia patients from having sexual intercourse raises even more ethical questioning. It is an individual’s right to have sex and that should not be taken away from them, but it is also their right to avoid engaging in sexual activity if they so choose. This controversy puts caregivers in a difficult position because it is their responsibility to make judgements that will keep their patients safe. It may be hard for caregivers to assess whether-or-not a patient has truly consented to sexual activity, leaving them to decide if an occurrence is considered sexual assault. As you can see, many factors contribute to why this topic is so heavily-debated. While there is no clear answer as to address this concern, protecting residents and their rights should always be the retirement home’s utmost priority, whether it be allowing individuals to consent to sex or protecting individuals that cannot consent to sex.

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