Older Adult Sexuality in Long-Term Care Settings

Society has a difficult time imagining older people as sexual beings. The belief that elders are not interested in their sexuality becomes reinforced when they enter a long-term care facility.

Contrary to cultural stereotypes, many older adults are sexual throughout their life no matter where they live. Expressions of sexuality in long-term care encompass psychological aspects of relationships and behaviors. Even though sexual intercourse may be infrequent, intimate relationships and sexual feelings are experienced.  Actions include passing compliments, physical contact, maintaining physical appearance, flirtation, affections and kissing.  Sexuality in later life can be associated with pleasure, communication, sense of identity, mutual tenderness, passion, affirming that one’s body still functions and feelings of security. Sexual expression can also improve an older adult’s mood.

Long-term care elder residents wishing to full fill their needs face numerous challenges. Their actions must comply with an institutional structure, policies and procedures developed by management to protect the facility’s legal/liability responsibilities.   They may face negative staff and resident’s attitudes that could perpetuate rumors and gossip. Living in close proximity with staff and other residents has often been referred to as living in a fishbowl. Lack of privacy may include roommates and staff failing to knock on doors before entering resident’s rooms.  Denying elderly residents access to sexuality deprives them of their independence.