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.”

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