A good sexuality policy for retirement and assisted living facilities espouses the ideal that all people, of all ages, deserve and are entitled to a superior quality of life. Creation of a sexuality policy which gives sanction to sexual expression, while taking into consideration the realities of residents with different levels of cognitive and physical impairment, would achieve such an ideal. In our society sex and desire are falsely believed to be solely the realm of the young and able. A common, yet incorrect assumption is that older people are asexual, over-sexual (primarily due to mental illness), and heterosexual by default. For the benefit of our aging population’s well-being, such outdated belief systems need to be challenged and changed. There is a long and on-going history of sexual oppression within the United States (and around the world). For many generations people have primarily associated sexuality with physical attractiveness, procreation and marriage. Sex outside of marriage, and for reasons other than breeding, have historically been criticized on moral grounds.
Even though attitudes in America are moving toward a more positive and healthy outlook on sexual development throughout the lifespan, there still exists a pervasive air of negativity surrounding elderly sexuality. These oppressive attitudes toward elderly sexuality are commonly demonstrated by administrative policies, children of residents, and by staff of residential communities and nursing homes. However, societal attitudes toward elderly sexuality are are evidently beginning to change. Recent studies indicate that older Americans increasingly view sexual expression to be a positive, pleasurable, and healthy aspect of their lives.
A lack of understanding from health professionals about older adult sexuality may foster an environment that attempts to coerce the elderly to conform to society’s oppressive expectations, particularly so for older women. With the current population of elderly living in nursing homes to be around 1.6 million and rising, geriatric care will have to adapt to the ever changing characteristics of the people it serves. The new generation of people entering long-term care facilities will likely demand more from their service providers, especially with regards to personal privacy. We will also likely have more residents coming to geriatric residential facilities for which cohabitation was a suitable prelude or option to marriage, and for whom sexual relationships outside of marriage is more acceptable. In addition there is a growing need for residential facilities to recognize and accommodate the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex clients. The challenge will be for residential care facilities to properly educate their employees about elderly sexuality in all its forms, and to have policies in place which will ensure optimum sexual, physical and spiritual health for their residents.
We owe it to our aging population to provide them with a sense of comfort and peace in their final years. The last days of our aging population, who have built the foundations on which we all stand, should be free from oppression of any kind. It is our duty to put aside our moralistic judgments about sexuality, as well as our adherence to negative ageism, and to think about what’s best for the aging people which we serve. The research has demonstrated time and time again, what our elderly have consistently communicated to us is that sexuality continues throughout the lifespan and is an important part of human health and well-being. It’s time we all began to listen.
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- Dr. Ingersoll
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