Senior Citizens and — Sex?

seniors sex
No dysfunction here!

Yep. Old people gettin’ it on.

For all the ads for Viagra or Cyalis or other drugs to help men with “Sexual Dysfunction” there seems to be no shortage of older folks have no trouble whatsoever doin’ it.

For folks that work in nursing and assisted living facilities one of the most unsettling issues they have to deal with is intimate relations between residents.

It’s true that in some older folks, either desire or function has diminished. In some cases its a health issue. In others the side effect of some drug.  But for many older folks – even VERY old folks – sexual function is still alive and well.

While some are actively engaged in sexual relations, others are just looking for a intimate connection and that often includes close physical contact.

One major problem in long term care facilities is a lack of privacy. Most nursing facilities only offer “semi-private” rooms as their standard accomodation; that means two perfect strangers of the same gender sharing a very small space and a bathroom. Its hard enough to agree when lights are on or off, how the TV volume is managed, who has how much storage space. Imagine having to hang a sock on the doorknob to advertise you’re needing some privacy with your loved one when you’re in your 70’s?

Under such conditions its impossible to have a close, personal relationship with someone which may or may not include sex.  But residents and their family’s should know that thanks to the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act, they DO have rights, explicit rights to privacy for instance, and they should be respected.  You can read more about “Residents Rights” here

Another problem is the moral or religious values of caregivers — nurses, social workers or aides who frown on consensual sex relations between adults and actively work to prevent it.  The imposition of one’s cultural, moral or social beliefs on another is also wrong. The  freedoms and rights surrounding beliefs and mores of senior citizens are to be as respected INSIDE a nursing facility as they are in the halls of the Supreme Court.

More recently, a seemingly new social problem has arisen. In 1969 the “Stonewall Generation” kicked off the creation of a new, “out and proud” gay and lesbian community. These folks built community in our cities and countryside, they created community centers and health centers catering to the gay communities unique needs; they won protections against discrimination in housing, employment and public accomodation in many states, and more recently won battles over gaysserving legally  in the military and in some states, equal marriage rights. They came “out of the closet” in force – suddenly appearing in television programs, plays and movies, on the streets, in the bars, in your YMCA – and in your church, your schools and everywhere straight people were.  But notice that if you were a gay activist or just coming out at say, age 25 in 1969, that means today you are 68 years old today.  You may be in good health, but many others are not and “grey gays” are thinking about and talking about Long Term Care options  in greater numbers than ever before.

If you are husband and wife, you can share a room in a nursing or assisted living facility. As a same-sex couple, you are treated as perfect strangers and have no right to demand a shared room with someone who may have been your lifelong partner.

If you are a husband and wife, you also have options with regard to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and other retirement benefits that may help preserve assets for the couple. As a gay couple, none of this applies and both halves of a gay couple are subject to the likelihood of being completely impoverished by the high cost of Long Term Care.

Its a little uncomfortable thinking about sex among seniors in nursing homes. Imagine how uncomfortable it is for some seniors – greying gay seniors – whose relationships are completely and officially unrecognized and often unofficialyl go unremarked. The issue is not really about the sex — although just as for younger people, sex is certainly a part of our lives and finding ways to meet the needs of seniors in this regard is important as it is for younger people. More importantly, its about preserving the longtime, intimate relationships that keep us healthy, vital and happy.

Denying that older people have intimacy needs and sex lives is silly. Forcing them to deny their sexuality is unhealthy. Forcing gay seniors back into the closet in order to live in our typical Long Term Care facility seems unconscionable.



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