Consensual sex not welcome at retirement facilities

An article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics points out a form of ageism in residential home care facilities that has not received much attention until now. Consensual sex in elderly care homes.

The article points out that some residents are regularly denied consensual sex out of fears for safety and because of ageism.

Researchers from the Australian Centre for Evidence Based Aged Care found that older people – even those with early dementia – often enjoy a sexual relationship in their own homes. But when they end up in a residential care home a sexual relationship is not encouraged. The reasons cited include concerns for safety, inadequate privacy, anxieties about repercussions from relatives and ageism.

In the report, the researchers wrote: “Since it has been well established that sexuality and intimacy continue to be important in later life and are central to an individual’s health and well-being, the lack of attention paid by aged care facilities to residents’ sexual needs is concerning.”

Residents wish that more acknowledgement was given to the fact that many people are still sexually active when entering the facility, and they would like more healthcare professionals to ask about their sexual needs, the report said.

Since many facilities have inadequate formal policies and guidelines, or lack appropriately trained staff in regard to the subject, the topic generally is overlooked or frowned upon. And there is also the issue of a resident’s mental capacity and consent, as there are very few frameworks in place to assess a patient’s decision making ability with regard to sex.

The article argues that even though a resident may produce a low score on the mini-mental state test used to judge cognitive impairment, they are still able to express preferences for a lover. And while those who are vulnerable should be protected from harm, they say it is possible to ensure that the sexual behavior engaged in is not harmful, abusive or illegal.

“Seeking to ‘protect’ individuals with dementia by not allowing them to express their sexual needs, thereby stifling their autonomy and personhood, is a far greater failure of duty of care. It is also, we would argue, a violation of the fundamental right of a person with dementia to be recognized as a person before the law,” the report stated.

While the issue of ageism and sexual freedom has been relatively ignored thus far, as baby boomers age and a larger portion of the country’s population begins to enter retirement residences, the matter is likely to become more of a priority.

Sources: Journal of Medical Ethics, Medical News Today, Jezebel