Sex permeates throughout our culture daily: we can’t escape the sexual exploits and experiences of celebrities, politicians and ordinary people. That is, until you hit 50 plus years or even younger. It is a commonly accepted, though completely misguided view that we all stop having or wanting sex once we get past 50.
According to a survey conducted by Saga Magazine, 65% of over-50s are sexually active: with 46% claiming to have sex once a week and 25% of 75-85 year olds claiming to have had sex within the last 12 months. 85% said that sex is less pressurised than when they were younger, proving that sex can feel better with age.
Although the notion of sex within our daily life has become less controversial, sex and the older person still seems to be a taboo subject. The use of such derogatory terms as ‘horny old woman’ and ‘dirty old man’ reflect a deep level of discomfort within our youth led culture about the idea that older people have sex. Sex is identified with reproduction, attractiveness, youthfulness and power and maybe younger people aren’t ready to confront to idea of growing old.
There are 10 million people over the age of 65 in the UK and 3 million are over 80. These figures are projected to rise to 19 million over 65 years and 8 million over 80 years by 2050. The elderly population is growing as a result of the 1960’s baby boom, better health and new medical interventions and drugs that prolong people’s lives as well as decreased fertility levels, meaning less babies are being born.
Many elderly people living in nursing or residential care homes have their daily living needs provided for, except their sexual health and needs. There are very few provisions in place to protect our sexual rights once we enter nursing or residential homes.
Some residents strike up relationships when they move into nursing or residential homes and may wish to begin a more physical relationship. Others may not wish to or are able to have a full sexual relationship but there are other activities they can do to be intimate with another person such as cuddling, foreplay, using a sex toy, kissing and even reading erotic fiction.
Research conducted by the Gerontology Institute at Georgia State University (2016) found that older adults in assisted-living/retirement facilities experienced limits to their rights to sexual freedom because of a lack of policies regarding the issue and the actions and attitudes of staff and managers.
Within our ageing population there are many older people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) who may require care in their later years, yet according to Stonewall’s research into the experiences and expectations of older LGBT people, three in five respondents were not confident that social care and support services, such as paid carers or housing services, would not understand or be sensitive to their needs. 50% said they would be uncomfortable coming out to care home staff and one third said they would be uncomfortable being out to a housing provider.
According to Sue Lister, “There’s a great deal of silence because LGBT folk tend to go back into the closet when they are in need of care”.
She and three colleagues have been performing their training play, “Free to Be Me”, in care homes and at conferences since 2015 to educate and inform healthcare professionals, carers and the general public.
Age UK has created a guide with the older LGBT charity Opening Doors London and author Sally Knocker for health and social care providers. “Safe To Be Me” offers practical advice on being the kind of service in which older LGBT people can feel safe and accepted for who they are.
Sally Knocker, Consultant Trainer with Dementia Care Matters and Opening Doors London Rainbow Cafe Coordinator, says: ‘As we go grey, we don’t become less gay, but sometimes we can feel less visible and more vulnerable. My hope is this guide will encourage teams to realise that it is often the simple things that can help those of us who are LGBT to feel confident that we can be open about our lives and not feel judged for who we are.’
The concept that we stop being sexually active once we hit 50 is one of the stumbling blocks to older people being able to have sex in nursing or residential homes: therefore, the notion of residents wanting to have sex is not considered at all. Many care homes do not provide appropriate facilities to enable residents to have sexual activity or just enjoy physical contact with another person. Many residents share rooms or their room does not have a lock, thus not providing the privacy they require.
The attitude of staff towards sex can prevent residents from having sexual intercourse, spending some quiet time using a sex toy or pleasuring themselves behind closed doors. Staff training is very limited or non existent in some nursing homes. Their own subjective view of what is a “normal” relationship can also impact upon their care and use of language too.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has produced guidelines about sexual activity within residential care homes for nurses and health care professionals which state if a resident wishes to have consensual sex and is of mental capacity (within law), the manager should make provision, if possible, for this to happen if it does not impact upon other residents.
The RCN guide outlines ways in which managers can improve the sexual health and well being of their residents by:
The benefits of sexual activity or intercourse are numerous, including aiding insomnia, promoting increased sexual health and well being and improving happiness. Using a sex toy can improve sexual health and well being by making people aware of any problems that may exist, help them to alleviate those problems or encourage them to seek medical advice as soon as possible as well as meet their sexual needs.
Some HCPs now recommend using a sex toy to their patients because they recognise the benefits of having an orgasm and enjoying sexual intimacy and pleasure benefit both physical and mental wellbeing.
Having sex is a human right and we are failing older people residing in care and nursing homes who wish to participate in sexual activity. There needs to be a complete change in attitude towards sex within care/nursing homes as the elderly population continues to grow and people live longer.
We also need to ensure older people are informed about safe sex as there has been a significant rise in sexual transmitted diseases and HIV in the over 50’s with many presenting with advanced cases of an STI and more worryingly, HIV. Knowing they need to get tested and where to go is important.
As a company that has many customers who live in residential/ retirement homes we know that enjoying sexual intimacy and pleasure doesn’t stop just because you are getting older. Happy residents make any nursing or residential home a much better place to work too!