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Yes to Sex in Nursing Homes

Older residents of long-term care facilities are denied sex.

All of us get caught up in the grind of worrying about ourselves, worrying about our jobs, worrying about our money, worrying about our kids, and so forth. With all this attention focused on our own lives and affairs, it’s easy to forget that other people are suffering. Unfortunately, it’s probably easiest to forget that many people encamped in long-term care facilities are inconvenienced a lot more than we are. Without a doubt, many people who live in nursing homes are treated like chattel. They are deprived of some basic joys of being human—most notably sex.

I was shocked and saddened to read a short article authored by Rebecca Clay and published with the American Psychological Association titled “Sex in long-term care.” From this article, I learned that older residents aren’t allowed to have sex—and even ridiculed or chastised for asking--by staff. Such staff are particularly insensitive to the needs of LGBT residents who sometimes pretend to be siblings in order to remain in close contact with a lover! How sad it is to think that somebody goes through the difficulty of living 60, 70 or 80 years, and at the end of his life, he’s denied the comfort and enjoyment of having an intimate relationship with someone he loves whether it be a man or woman. Furthermore, in addition to being judgmental about and intolerant of sexual relationships among residents, nursing home staff don’t provide lubricant and condoms. Of note, nearly half of all women who have gone through menopause experience vaginal atrophy and drying. They need lubricant and estrogen creams.

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Having sex is an indelible human right that provides comfort and joy. If the sex is consensual and desired, then it should happen. Older people are people who want and need sex, too. In addition to being enjoyable, sex can help with mental health and improves mood. Clay suggests that staff in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities be trained with respect to sensitivity. Once staff becomes sensitive to the needs of their residents, the cycle of proscription and intolerance will be broken. She also suggests that residents be evaluated to determine whether they have the cognitive ability to consent to sex. Both these suggestions are excellent.

Many of us will become old someday. And when we do become old, is it fair to be deprived of sex? Is it fair to have to answer for our proclivities and desires to intolerant staff members in long-term care facilities? Proper accommodations should be made for all free people who are capable, consensual and willing to have sex regardless of their sexual orientation or care status. In this world, we spend so much money and time on other initiatives; it bothers me to think that a basic human right is being denied to residents of long-term care facilities.

On a final note, let’s consider what happens to some champion horses once they retire: They’re put out to pasture at a stud farm where they get all the sex, barley, and oats they want. Now, what happens to some champion people once they retire. They’re isolated from society in long-term care facilities to live out a forgotten existence in the presence of intolerant caregivers who deny them sex and possibly ridicule them for their sexual orientation. Makes me wish I were a horse …

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