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Should seniors' homes facilitate sex between residents?

Categories: Community, Health

The sex lives of elderly adults, and delicate questions of safety and privacy, have prompted interesting questions in the context of seniors' homes.

Some argue that seniors, particularly those with dementia, are needlessly being prevented from expressing and enjoying their sexuality.  Some researchers argue that more needs to be done for seniors who want to be sexually active. (iStock)

"There is no reason why people can't enjoy a healthy sex life until the day they die and it's been shown to be hugely important to psychological and physical wellbeing," Dr. Laura Tarzia told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Tarzia and a team of researchers from the Australian Centre for Evidence-Based Aged Care at La Trobe University in Melbourne have made their case in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

In seniors' homes, they argue, sex between residents is seen as taboo.

Staff members often consult family members if they see a relationship developing between residents, and even keep consenting partners apart over myriad concerns.

Safety and fidelity are often raised as issues, as is the possibility of sexual abuse.

But Tarzia said many older people see sexual expression as a priority, and that many of the alarm bells around sex are triggered by an ageist attitude that is pervasive in society.

Taking for granted that some seniors can't give consent, especially if they have dementia, is an inappropriate way to handle the issue, she added.

"People should ask themselves whether they would want their own children telling them whether they could have sex with someone. I think most people would say 'no'," argued Tarzia.

The argument was well received by some readers, but many argued that the issue is complicated at the ground level.

  • "I've a long experience of interacting with nursing home residents that comes from having had both parents in an extended care facility for almost a decade ... [T]he biggest problems with dementia sufferers consenting to anything are:

    1) their confusion leads them to change their minds about things from one minute to the next, and 2) communication skills diminish to the extent that it is often extremely difficult to divine exactly what they do or don't want to do.

    While it is correct to say they aren't children, and that of course they deserve to be respected as adults, the practical realities often dictate otherwise." - Sideswiped

  • "A friend's father with Alzheimer's Disease would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, not know who this other person was in bed with him, and start hitting his wife. What should the staff response be if one romantic partner suddenly blanks out on who this stranger is beside him/her and why they don't have any/much clothing on? How to react if someone starts screaming they are being rape?

    None of this is a reason to bar [seniors with dementia] from the human right to feel physical closeness, but it sure doesn't make integrating such rights into facilities for those who can't live independently any easier. Important, but complicated nonetheless." - MarkHammer
How do you think staff should proceed when it comes to sex between residents of old age homes?

Should sexual expression, and all the privacy needs and safety concerns that may come with it, be more of a priority for staff at seniors' homes?

Do you have a personal anecdote to share on the topic? Please let us know in the comments.

(This survey is not scientific. Results are based on readers' replies.)

Tags: love, sex, World

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