10 Things to Know About Sex in Nursing Homes
Carol Bradley Bursack, Minding Our Elders | May 2nd 2014 Feb 22nd 2017
People need to feel loved throughout life. As adults, that can include sexually expressed love. While younger people may think aging bodies aren’t sexy or sexual, their parents may well disagree.
Commonly, adult children avoid thinking of their parents as sexual beings. Yet, since many people remain sexual for most of their lives, these adult children must face the fact that their elderly parents, even those in a care setting, have fallen in love.
Imagine if your mom is in a nursing home and she and a man, both wheelchair bound, fall in love. They hold hands and gaze lovingly at each other. They genuinely care, and physical caring is part of that equation. How do you handle this?
Understand that love is healthy and good. Remind yourself that age is no barrier to loving, even if you can’t understand it.
What if they want to get married? If your mom and her beloved are cognitively sound, they have a right to do so. You should talk with her about any possible downside such as inheritance issues, but wills can be drawn up to avoid legal problems.
What if one or both of them has dementia? There’s still no reason to discourage their amorous feelings. Getting married is generally not a good idea since they are cognitively impaired. Yet, they could have a dedication ceremony that celebrates their love without making their union legally binding.
What about actual sex? At this time of life, many physical and/or mental issues may prevent actual sexual relations. What elders probably desire most are skin contact in general and the loving touch of a mate. Regardless, if they are cognitively sound and they want to share a bed, some nursing homes will consider accommodating them.
What if they have dementia? This should be handled with non-judgmental respect, love, and kindness, not just out of queasiness over “old people and sex.” Often just touching and holding hands will be enough to satisfy them.
What if they are still married to others but don’t recognize their spouses and don’t remember their marriages? Painful as this is for the well spouses and families, it doesn’t reflect on the quality of the marriages they shared. Check the Web for a story about retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s reaction to her husband’s new love in the nursing home. She handled this with grace.
Sex is a difficult area for nursing homes. Many would rather ignore the sexuality of their residents, just as adult children would. However, ignoring the issue doesn’t make it disappear. For now, most facilities will likely try to keep actual sexual contact at bay, yet many recognize their residents need for love and will consider options for those desiring sexual expression.