Sex in Nursing Homes — why not?

“Why is it so hard to remain sexually active in a nursing home?” Ira Rosofsky, psychologist in long-term care facilities, asks in “Sex Bans in Nursing Homes” in the Los Angeles Times, August 19, 2009. Rosofsky is the author of Nasty, Brutish, and Long: Adventures in Old Age and the World of Eldercare.

“Where is the law that says you check your rights and liberties at the nursing home door?” Rosfsky asks, then answers, “There is none that I know of. In fact, the law says you retain the right to a sex life wherever you reside.”

Oh? It’s not that the law or facility guidelines mention sex, but nursing home residents are guaranteed the right to “maintain [their] highest practicable physical, mental and psychosocial well-being,” as well as “the right to privacy and the accommodation of personal needs,” according to Rosofsky.

Then why aren’t nursing home residents permitted enough privacy for self-pleasuring or coupling if they choose? Why can’t they enjoy sex — even solo sex — without an aide or custodian walking in? Why can’t they cuddle each other to sleep instead of taking a sedative? Why do few nursing homes have private spaces that residents can use, undisturbed by roommates or staff?

I participated in a panel discussion about senior sex in San Francisco a while back. One of the panelists, administrator of a forward-thinking nursing home, discussed frequent problems of the residents’ family objecting to Grandma having sex with someone other than Grandpa (even if Grandpa is deceased). Then there’s the issue of whether Grandma can indeed give consent if she has Alzheimer’s. How does the nursing home know whether she is making an independent decision about whether to have sex with someone who is interested in having sex with her, even pursuing her?

These are issues to be examined carefully, permitting the resident utmost dignity, respect, safety, and independence.

One nursing home that stands out in this arena is the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in New York which has a Sexual Expression Policy “to recognize and protect the sexual rights of nursing home residents, while distinguishing between intimacy and sexually inappropriate behaviors.”

Your comments?


  1. Ron on December 21, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Recently, in my professional capacity was assessing a 40+ year old developmentaly disabled male Navajo who lived in a care home on the reservation. He was accompanied by four staff from the home. When I asked the question on the assessment, "What do you do for fun?" a young 20 something female Navajo attendant said, "He gets 45 minutes private time every day to masturbate."

    Seems a most progressive and joyful policy. Wonderful to see it in place and to see the professional understanding of this client's adult needs.

  2. cleofaye on September 6, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    It's also a problem that seniors have one of the highest rates of new STI infections because they don't have the education about and/or the ability to go out and buy condoms. They should be in bowls in the lobby if you ask me. 🙂

  3. E. on September 5, 2009 at 6:29 am

    I remember a movie many many years ago, with Kirk Douglas (post stroke) playing a nursing home patient, though inmate might be a better term in context of that particular film… he and a ladyfriend break the rules quite seriously in order to have a kiss and a cuddle in a narrow little hospital-type bed, and I remember in the scene following, they are forcibly separated by a nursing home aide or aides who are showing visual and audible disgust at the intimacy.

    That one scene made me think, a lot, about my own stereotypes wrt aging and relationships or sex. Powerful stuff.

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