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?

Wedded at 93 and 89

“Each of us is living a lonely life. Why not get married?” Ebenezer Rose, 93, asked as he proposed to Monica Hayden, 89, reports Michael Laforgia in the Miami Herald. So they did.

Rose had been widowed for four years after 58 years of marriage; Hayden had survived two husbands. They had known each other through their church for 20 years, but only recently started keeping company.

As I start to heal after losing Robert ten months ago, I am struck by this story as a testament to the remarkable ability of the heart to heal after tremendous loss and open itself again to love. The story of Ebenezer Rose and Monica Hayden illustrates the power of love, whatever the age of the lovers, and the basic, human need for affection and intimacy.

Never too late for love: wedding couple aged 80 + 84

I was catching up on a week-old Sunday New York Times on my Kindle. I came upon the wedding announcements, which I usually skip — when I spotted this one:

Anne Wallach, Gerald Maslon
… The bride, 80, is an author in New York… The bridegroom, 84, is a retired lawyer.

The couple met at Harvard in 1947, when they were both dating other people, whom they would later marry. The two couples stayed friends. Wallach was widowed in 2003; Maslon in 2005. Afterwards, they began dating. On May 1, 2009, they married.

Age is certainly no barrier to love. According to The New York Times,

Ms. Wallach said she still sees Mr. Maslon as he was when he was a law student — with dark hair and carrying a green book bag.

She says she wonders if he sees her in the same way and even addresses that thought in a novel she is writing: “Jack and I were young together. He’s always that boy in a tweed jacket swooping toward me on his bike. Am I a girl with a smooth face and long blonde hair to you, Jack?”

“She asks me that all the time,” he laughed. “Yeah, but I like her the way she is now.”

The Best Kind of “Family Values”

I’m proud of the California Supreme Court for overturning the ban on gay marriages on May 15, 2008. It’s about time. When I see the images of committed couples — especially older couples — hugging and crying because they finally will have the rights the rest of us have had all along, I want to sing, cheer, yell, and dance my support.

Look, for example, at Del Martin, 83, and Phyllis Lyon, 79, who had been together for 51 years when they were married in San Francisco on Feb. 12, 2004, a marriage later declared invalid. Now they can remarry. So can Ellen Pontac and Shelly Bailes, who have been together for 34 years, and Mason Bowling, 61, and Patrick Fitzgerald, 58, together 30 years.

This is, finally, true separation of church and state. Religions are still free to take whatever stand they wish. According to the ruling, “no religion will be required to change its religious policies or practices with regard to same-sex couples, and no religious officiant will be required to solemnize a marriage in contravention of his or her religious beliefs.” This is a civil matter. A matter of civil rights.

Two people fall in love, create a life together, stay in love, perhaps raise family together, and get old still loving each other. This, to me, is “family values” at its best.

I would love to hear from gay and lesbian couples over 50 who would like to share their stories and their comments. Please either post comments here or email me if you prefer.