Monday, June 8, 2009

Old people sex, ewwww!

One of the things that scares me about getting old is the idea that a lot of old people lose their sexuality. Not sixty and seventy year olds, I know all about the shenanigans that go on in retirement homes, but eighty and ninety year olds. When you go from retirement home to nursing home.

There's not much sex in nursing homes. (Quick clarification: in this whole post "sex" means sexual intimacy in general, not necessarily intercourse.) For safety's sake, every door has to be open all the time. Most roommates are same-sex strangers; once in a blue moon a married couple is able to room together, but only an opposite-sex legally married couple and only rarely. I don't think many nurses or aides would be comfortable helping with sex in any way--say, helping two people into the same bed (they're all single beds of course) would almost certainly be refused as some sort of safety hazard.

I don't know what the ethics of dementia and sex are. Obviously having sex with someone who's a little forgetful is fine, and having sex with someone who can't understand what's happening is wrong, but where do you draw the line? Is there a single day when you realize it's no longer okay, or the day before they have to move out to a facility, and on that night... do you have the last sex of your life with your spouse? What is it like to knowingly have the last sex of your life?

The whole hospital setting, whether you're old or not, seems horrifyingly anti-sex, or rather just not considering sex as a concern; with nurses making rounds at night and privacy consisting of a curtain if you're lucky, I don't know how people who are in the hospital for courses of months even masturbate.

Healthcare institutions make at least some effort to provide physical and psychological comforts; they have massage and music therapists and therapy dogs and recreational therapy. Maybe by the time I'm old the "vibrator, porn, partner if you've got one, and a promise of 30 minutes of real privacy" therapy adjunct will exist. God I hope so.

The real problem here is I don't want to lose anything and I don't want to die. Not wanting sex to die is just another part of that.


  1. I've wondered about diminished capacity, too. For example, how do people with Down's Syndrome negotiate sex? If we had sex I might be taking advantage of a mentally retarded woman, but would a mentally retarded man? What if she's more severely retarded than he is?

    I may have to do some research on whether the law even addresses these issues.

  2. A lot depends on the facility. My grandfather re-married at age 93, and the nursing staff would bring his wife to him and they would get in bed together and close the door for a few hours every day. Dunno if they ever did anything beyond cuddling. Just as gay-centric nursing homes have cropped up, maybe there will be a swingers one some day.

  3. Crayonbeam - That's awesome. When I worked at a nursing home the nurses were always too afraid that residents would hurt each other somehow. Obviously they weren't yelling "knock it off in there" or anything, but neither were they willing to actively help.

  4. In some places, with people who are profoundly disabled, the aides have to help them get it together. I knew a fellow who made facilitated communication devices (think Steven Hawking) and there was a screen for...intimate moments.

    Hospitals, now, if you actually need a hospital you're too bloody sick and can wait for some privacy.

    Dementia is an issue, a demented person cannot consent. That has arisen in some nursing homes, where a demented person thought another resident was their spouse. The children hit the roof, and would not allow it. The non-demented resident was really unhappy.

  5. i have heard of other cases where two people in nursing home-type situations coupled up, and their children or whomever held the power of attorney threw shit fits to prevent their parents from having sex.
    which isn't just sad and frightening for my future(if i live that long), it is seriously angering, from a civil liberty standpoint.

    yes, a person suffering from some (most?) types of dementia cannont consent to sex (although, as Bruno points out, there are issues even with that, because what if there are two people who suffer to the same degree? can they then consent to each other, like two 17 year olds can have sex with each other, but in most states a 20 year old cannot have sex with a 17 year old, because 17 year old cannot consent? then again, dementia is the thing that scares me the most)

    but leaving aside dementia, because most people in general don't suffer from dementia (i don't know the exact stats in nursing homes, but i know it is *NOT* everyone, or even almost everyone), no one has the right to interfere with what consenting adults want to do. period. i know that my oldest set of grandparents had sex literally everyday until Grandad died at age 97. and while, ewe, Grandmere PLEASE don't tell me about it, yay for them!

    i was just mentioning somewhere else how messed up the American Medical establishment is on SEX. not the act of reproduction - medical is good on sperm+egg. on SEX for the sake of SEX. unless you are trying to procreate, been raped, have an STD or are an rich man with an erectile disfunction, the medical establisment totally ignores sex. sure, they hand out BC, but that's "family planning", not "hey, sex can make you feel better/less depressed, boosts your immune system, burns over 700 calories per orgasm" and etc.

    but... people don't like to think of their parents having sex. i have a friend who insists that her parents have had sex EXACTLY 3 times in 34 years - once per child, and thats it. because parents having sex is somehow creepy to children. GRANDPARENTS having sex? most people would go BALLISTIC.

    which is sad. because sex is one of the very best things about being alive.

  6. erm... please ignore the spelling errors. my spellchecker ran off with my printer driver, and All Is Chaos...

  7. Why do you think Health Care facilities are called sterile? ;}~

    Being afraid to die - isn't that fear of the inevitable?


  8. i think that was directed at Holly, but i am not sure.

    so, i will answer - i am not afraid of "dying", i am afraid of "losing myself". death is only one of the ways in which that can happen - dementia flat out fucking terrifies me.

    most people are afraid of death. actually, i believe that a sound way to diagnose certain mental disorders is to discover that the patient *doesn't* fear death in some form or another...