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Do You Plan On Being Sexually Active When You’re Older?

sexually active seniorsPlanning for old age—have you thought about it? Are you thinking about the quality of life you want when you’re in your later years? And what about sex? I think about it occasionally. A couple of news stories have made me think I need to have a conversation with my sons about the life I lead now and the life I want as long as I’m on the planet.

There was the story of the man who had sex with his wife, in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s—he was charged with sexual abuse for “having sex with his wife, incapacitated by dementia”. (source)

And, the sad story of three adults, two women and a man, who were having an intimate relationship when the adult children of the two women banned them from seeing the man, shutting down the relationship. The three adults, ranging in age from their 80s to mid-90s, lived in different nursing homes and regularly saw each other. I’m working with the photographer who documented the story to get more information about the ‘love triangle’ and will be writing about it soon. And while we won’t ever know all the details leading to the decision, it saddens me to think that these people were denied that human connection because of aging and health related issues. Or maybe because of the adult children’s discomfort with their parents’ sexuality?

Aging with dignity, respect, and autonomy isn’t guaranteed, unfortunately. Not if we have to give up some control over how we live. It is our responsibility to make our wishes clear and we should be doing that now, before issues arise. Sexuality is an individual and private thing. We make our own decisions during most of our lives, but when we talk about nursing homes and possible incapacitation we have to factor in our caregivers’ opinions and biases as well as other complications that arise as we lose control over our daily living.

We’re beginning to see some changes, but for the most part, the administrators and other professionals involved in long-term care aren’t adequately prepared to deal with aging sexuality. There has been a rise in the transmission of sexually transmitted infections among the older population, catching nursing homes unprepared. It’s just one indicator of the need to shift attitudes and frame guidelines for comprehensive care.

As I see it, we need to add sexuality to the aging discussion. If we’re caring for our parents it might be something we want to discuss. What happens if one of them is incapacitated in some way? Does that mean their desire for sex, even unexpressed, is no longer acceptable or possible? What about affection and touch? Do we deprive someone of that because we might be uncomfortable or the nursing facility doesn’t know how to handle it?

We also need to talk to our own children or our future caregivers about our needs and expectations. This one might be tricky. I’ve talked to a few people and gotten some feedback, occasionally vehement, about the need to protect their parents from predators. That’s a valid concern, but who decides that a loving person is a predator? There is sexual abuse and there is sexual intimacy. There are people seeking companionship and there are people looking for aging adults to manipulate.

My two adult sons are aware of my work and my relationship status, often to their discomfort. But I’m positive the topic of me and sex at age 85 has never crossed their minds. It falls to me to communicate clearly that I expect to remain sexually active for as long as I can. They need to hear that and be prepared to support my wishes. It’s really that simple.

  • If the guy down the hall is giving me the eye and I want to play with him—that’s my business. It may rest on the facility to assure that all patients who are sexually active are being tested for STIs, while letting me do what I want. Long-term care facilities must start developing policies on sex and sexuality.
  • If  you’re in a relationship, or married, but living apart, do you want visitation rights, in a private space?
  • If you’re married and one of you develops a form of dementia will you still want intimate times with him or her? Does your facility allow that? Will the family be supportive?

These probably aren’t the first things that pop to mind as you plan for your later years, but they are important. Make sure your children or other caregivers understand the kind of life you lead now and the quality of life you have a right to expect as you age. The right to human connection, in whatever form we desire it, is vital to living a fulfilling life.

Walker Thornton

We are delighted to have Walker Thornton as our Women’s Sexual Health columnist. After working for over 10 years in the field of sexual violence against women, Walker is now enjoying a new career as a freelance writer, public speaker, and sex educator with an emphasis on midlife women. Her blog, <a>WalkerThornton.com </a> was ranked #5 by Kinkly.com in their top 100 Sex Blogging Superheroes of 2014. You can connect with her on <a>Facebook </a> and <a href="http://twitter.com/WalkerThornton">Twitter</a> For questions about sexual health, write her at [email protected]

Elaine Ambrose

Tuesday 16th of February 2016

Isn't it interesting that we don't talk about one of the most powerful forces in nature? Old people having sex? That's disgusting! We need a new mindset on that. Thanks for writing about this, Walker. I must admit that passion in my sixties is the best ever!

Walker Thornton

Tuesday 16th of February 2016

Right there with you Elaine. Can't imagine not having some level of sexual intimacy in my life--at all the upcoming ages!

Cathy Sikorski

Monday 15th of February 2016

As someone who as been a caregiver for 7 different family members and friends over the last 25 years, I can see that this topic is necessary and not brought out in the open at all. I never had the issue as a caregiver, but I can see that it might come up. I, for one, find that those in care are often relegated to a back seat when their needs and wants are in the conversation. At some random point in time, adult children or caregivers decide that they know best period. In my case, my brother-in-law was a smoker for 50 years. He had become completely wheelchair bound from the ravages of MS, but still wanted to smoke. Even though we tried to get him to quit and he had tried to quit in the past, by the time he was living a life of pain, and limitations that most of us would never accept, all he wanted to do was smoke. And I bought him those cigarettes. Medically, that wasn;'t what was going to kill him or make his life worse. It was the one thing that gave him joy. This conversation about sex and the elderly is a must but it will likely take years. Thank you, Walker for your insight and making the conversation begin.

Walker Thornton

Monday 15th of February 2016

Cathy, I was the caregiver for my ex-husband for about 10 years--and we had various decisions, similar to yours, that we had to make. He also had MS. It is very difficult to honor their needs and more complicated I would imagine when the topic is sex. We didn't have to deal with that one, but it's clear to me that it is a topic drawing more attention these days. I know experts in the field of sexuality and aging who are working with institutions to help them develop the appropriate policies.

Paula Kiger

Monday 15th of February 2016

This is an important topic. Thank you for sharing it.

Walker Thornton

Monday 15th of February 2016

Thanks Paula.

green diva meg

Monday 15th of February 2016

fascinating topic. seriously, never occurred to me to consider having discussions about this stuff. i'm still trying to get a grip on menopause . . . ;)

Walker Thornton

Monday 15th of February 2016

Yeah, I hear ya...

Anne Parris

Monday 15th of February 2016

I've never once thought about this, but it makes a lot of sense. I could see as the adult child being concerned a parent wasn't competent to consent, but aside from that I plan on staying out of it.

Walker Thornton

Monday 15th of February 2016

I hadn't thought about it either until I read about the husband charged for having sex with his wife. That one's sticky as some people might not be able to give consent but may recognize their loved one and behaviorally indicate consent. Part of this is also about training caregiver and healthcare professionals to accept sexuality as a vital part of life for many aging adults.

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