getting old doesn't mean sex has to
July 23, 2013 6:58 AM   Subscribe

The Hebrew Home in Riverdale, NY has a comprehensive policy regarding sexual expression. The policy, which appears to be the only one of its kind among U.S. residential facilities for the elderly, says that residents "have the right to seek out and engage in sexual expression,” including “words, gestures, movements or activities which appear motivated by the desire for sexual gratification." As Baby Boomers age and begin to enter nursing homes in greater numbers, they're taking their freer sexual attitudes -- and their Viagra-- with them. An 80-something resident of the Hebrew Home says "she’d love to have someone special in her life. 'You want to have someone to pat you, someone to hold hands with,' she said. 'Age should not be a barrier to anything.'"
posted by Annie Savoy (38 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hebrew Home was also discussed yesterday on NPR in a similar discussion around dementia and the ability to consent to sex. They take a different tack than some other facilities:
...rather than presume, as many health care facilities do, that somebody who has dementia cannot consent no matter what, [the staff at Hebrew Home] presume the other way. They presume the person has the capacity, and then they observe as the relationship appears to be developing. They ask questions. They want to make sure that this person - both persons are comfortable in the relationship.
posted by quiet coyote at 7:05 AM on July 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


They'd better get married first!
posted by symbioid at 7:16 AM on July 23, 2013


So - what if, for example a young non-residing person entered into a sexual relationship with one of them... would they respect that choice? Or only if its another elderly person in the facility?
posted by symbioid at 7:17 AM on July 23, 2013


This is awesome, provided that everyone is very vigilant about consent. I hope they respect same sex couples as well.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:18 AM on July 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


I agree with roomthreeseventeen. The issue of consent is thorny when it comes to residents with dementia. But that issue shouldn't force residents of nursing homes to be condemned to involuntary celibacy, or to be punished when they aren't celibate.
posted by Gelatin at 7:24 AM on July 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I always knew that Mister Weatherbee and Miss Grundy were randy goats.
posted by dr_dank at 7:25 AM on July 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


This can cause some difficult decisions. The NPR discussion yesterday mentioned Sandra Day O'Connor's husband who had dementia and started a relationship with another resident in the nursing home he was staying at. She decided he was happier that way and let it be.
posted by charred husk at 7:34 AM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


The NPR discussion yesterday mentioned Sandra Day O'Connor's husband who had dementia and started a relationship with another resident in the nursing home he was staying at. She decided he was happier that way and let it be.

See also Sarah Polley's extremely moving film Away From Her.
posted by yoink at 7:39 AM on July 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


Nitpick: Riverdale, NY does not exist, and never has. It's a neighborhood in the Bronx, but people there won't admit it because the name associates them with the poorer people of color who live on the other side of Van Cortlandt Park.
posted by deadmessenger at 7:41 AM on July 23, 2013 [9 favorites]


yoink: "See also Sarah Polley's extremely moving film Away From Her."

Just wanted to mention that film, it took me completely by surprise. It was adapted from an Alice Munro story, which you can read here.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:43 AM on July 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


The 'baby boom' started in 1946 - doubt many of us are in nursing homes yet as the oldest would be around 67.
posted by AnnElk at 7:49 AM on July 23, 2013


I have always strongly suspected that the primary issue for many elder care facilities is not the thorny issue of consent, it's the ewwww factor, which is ageist and unkind, to say the least.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:52 AM on July 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


Here's news just in....

Anyone who hopes to have a loving, long term relationship that includes a sexual component will eventually be making love to someone with wrinkles, various incapacities, maybe thin or missing hair, compromised mobility, and generally non-youthful looks.

It's a point sometimes overlooked by the younger factions of the world who get an 'eww' reaction.
posted by FauxScot at 8:01 AM on July 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


"You want to have someone to pat you..."

Is that some sort of geriatric code? Do they post things on the bulletin board like, "Ms. Blumenkranz in room 315 has homemade cookies for sale!"
posted by orme at 8:04 AM on July 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Anyone who hopes to have a loving, long term relationship that includes a sexual component will eventually be making love to someone with wrinkles, various incapacities, maybe thin or missing hair, compromised mobility, and generally non-youthful looks.

It's a point sometimes overlooked by the younger factions of the world who get an 'eww' reaction.


I never got why some people get so grossed out by the idea of their parents having sex. I mean yeah, I don't want to SEE it, but I'm glad they still have sex! It means they did something right when they got married 30-odd years ago. Why would you want your parents, who you presumably love, to be locked in a sexless marriage (or be single and not getting any)?
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:05 AM on July 23, 2013 [9 favorites]


yoink: " See also Sarah Polley's extremely moving film Away From Her."

It can be streamed on Youtube for $1.99.
posted by zarq at 8:11 AM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anyone who hopes to have a loving, long term relationship that includes a sexual component will eventually be making love to someone with wrinkles, various incapacities, maybe thin or missing hair, compromised mobility, and generally non-youthful looks.

That's okay, I'll probably be nearly blind, half-deaf and unable to taste or smell anything by that time.
posted by goethean at 8:13 AM on July 23, 2013


"I never got why some people get so grossed out by the idea of their parents having sex. I mean yeah, I don't want to SEE it, but I'm glad they still have sex!"
posted by showbiz_liz

This so much. Man I hope my folks are still having sexytiem, in fact, I am shure they are. They have been together for ever and a day, so good for them. I have made/told various jokes around various sexual themes with my mum and she laughed, and I thought, you probably did that with dad. And so what, I hope they enjoyed the fuck out of it, all of it.
posted by marienbad at 8:18 AM on July 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


The NPR piece spent quite a bit of time talking about a case where two people with dementia were "caught" having sex and separated. It was a huge scandal; the administrator of the facility had to leave his job and the man in the couple was sent to a facility two hours away, which made it harder for his family to visit.

Anyway, what struck me most was a journalist talking about how he had gone through thousands of pages of legal documents and testimony about the case, and there was not a single mention of what the two in the couple thought, felt, or wanted. The families, the medical professionals, the facility staff involved were all interviewed (or maybe deposed?) but, according to the legal documents, no one thought to interview the two that were supposedly being protected.

I found that really galling. I mean, I know dementia is horrifying, but it doesn't take away a person's humanity.
posted by lunasol at 8:19 AM on July 23, 2013 [14 favorites]


Armchair speculation time, but the reason we are all ewww at the thought of naked grannies is biological, it does a young man no (evolutionary) good to get it on with an old woman. It's not ideal (again evolutionary speaking) for a young woman to procreate with an old man.

Plus, you get used to whatever your normal. is. I'm sure newly wed me would be horrified to catch a glimpse of 20 year married me and my wife.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:24 AM on July 23, 2013


Armchair speculation time, but the reason we are all ewww at the thought of naked grannies is biological, it does a young man no (evolutionary) good to get it on with an old woman. It's not ideal (again evolutionary speaking) for a young woman to procreate with an old man.

And yet post menopausal women still want and have sex! It's amazing--as if evolution were an imprecise, messy mechanism, particularly when it comes to sexual desire!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:32 AM on July 23, 2013 [31 favorites]


Do they post things on the bulletin board like, "Ms. Blumenkranz in room 315 has homemade cookies for sale!"

Advantages of having lived in dorms
posted by Smedleyman at 8:34 AM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


In some ways, dementia may actually enhance sex. You don't have to fantasize that you're making love to Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I -- in your mind, it's actually happening! At least until that pushy CNA Eva Braun interrupts you because she says it's time for your medication.
posted by delfin at 8:36 AM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


[derail removed - Postroad you may want to contextualize your comments somewhat more for the purposes of this thread]
posted by jessamyn at 9:16 AM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Postroad you may want to contextualize your comments somewhat more for the purposes of this thread

Postroad, you been gettin it on with Mrs McGillicutty again?
posted by goethean at 9:20 AM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


And yet post menopausal women still want and have sex! It's amazing--as if evolution were an imprecise, messy mechanism, particularly when it comes to sexual desire!

Oh man, next you are going to tell me that my clever evolutionary explanation that just happens to support all standard gender roles and my personal prejudices is somehow not 100% correct!
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:45 AM on July 23, 2013 [15 favorites]


I wonder what will happen when mid-90s Antioch grads get to nursing home age...
posted by twsf at 10:07 AM on July 23, 2013


Armchair speculation time, but the reason we are all ewww at the thought of naked grannies is biological, it does a young man no (evolutionary) good to get it on with an old woman. It's not ideal (again evolutionary speaking) for a young woman to procreate with an old man.

No one's talking about pro-creation. This is a conversation about pleasure.
posted by thinkpiece at 10:56 AM on July 23, 2013


There is a lot of consensual sex in nursing homes. I know this because I've spent way too much time in nursing homes and seen it all.

My family's (a long line of nursing home administrators) take has always been that these people are adults and as long as its consensual, there is no reason to do one iota about it. Why should they? These people are still people. A nursing home should not be a prison. Nursing homes are facilities for care.

It gets thorny though, as the NPR piece alludes to. Not just with the consent of the residents, but with their family members. There was even a time where someone I'm close to had a lawsuit brought against their nursing home by a grandson of a resident for not preventing his grandfather from having sex with another resident. It was alleged that the nursing home was 'neglecting' his grandfather by allowing him to engage in sexual relations with another resident. Oof.

It's not charming, exactly, finding two centenarians in wheelchairs giving each other handjobs by the goldfish tank. But...I also don't really get why it squicks people out. People don't stop people people just because they need to chew their water. And I mean that really earnestly.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:43 AM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Armchair speculation time, but the reason we are all ewww at the thought of naked grannies is biological, it does a young man no (evolutionary) good to get it on with an old woman. It's not ideal (again evolutionary speaking) for a young woman to procreate with an old man.

No one's talking about pro-creation. This is a conversation about pleasure.


And Keith Talent was speculating about the biological reasons why we might find the idea of sex with old people non-pleasurable. As such his comment was not merely about "pro-creation" [sic].
posted by Decani at 11:45 AM on July 23, 2013


Anyone who believes that evolution encourages us to be squicked out by sex with elders because it's non-procreative had better feel the same about blowjobs.
posted by KathrynT at 12:18 PM on July 23, 2013 [13 favorites]


I have no problem with consenting partners--provided they are both able to consent. It gets more disturbing when you add in dementia.

My mom is in a care facility with dementia. When I describe to friends where she is mentally right now, I say that she is very like a toddler. Not very verbal and very much about wants not needs. She started a fairly innocent and sweet relationship with another resident who also had dementia. He looked a little like my dad and mostly, they just sat near one another and held hands occasionally--she would light up when she saw him. Unfortunately, he passed away within a few months. It didn't seem to me that she missed him or marked his passing. She hasn't struck up another relationship since.

That said, I would be concerned if I found she was having sex--because of the issue of consent. I don't believe she is in any mental state to make a real choice and I would be very concerned about it not being her choice. But if I were assured that she was not being harmed in any way and in fact, was enjoying the experience, I would not raise an objection with the facility. I have not discussed this with them, and I will bring it up because I'd be interested in learning their policy.
posted by agatha_magatha at 3:41 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am not sure how much dementia enters into consent, or lack of consent, but I think that it pretty much is harmless for two people who both are experiencing dementia to have a relationship. So long as both are happy. Where it gets sticky is if either partner is very much younger and does NOT have dementia.
There are people who are sexually abused in nursing homes, and if someone has dementia, proving and taking appropriate steps could be difficult.
But two people who are equals, enjoying one another's company, including sexually doesn't bother me.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:22 PM on July 23, 2013


I never got why some people get so grossed out by the idea of their parents having sex.

Probably because they can't quite remember that when they were 3 years old and awakened by a nightmare, they went to their parents room for comfort and saw something even more horrific.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 5:07 PM on July 23, 2013


I do wish sexuality had been addressed, even a little. I've seen clips of a doco about older GLBTIQ people going into retirement/nursing homes and essentially having to go back in the closet. I have enough dread of growing older without that to look forward to as well...
posted by Athanassiel at 10:02 PM on July 23, 2013


There are LGB (dunno about the T, yet) retirement communities and nursing homes around the US and Europe. New ones are opening almost every month. I'm having some trouble finding US ones that would accept Medicare; most assume some other source of personal funding, problematic given the poverty levels of, particularly, transwomen and lesbians.

One of the locations most amusing to me currently is a lesbian RV park near Sequim (pronounced, um, s-quim) WA.
posted by Dreidl at 11:00 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


To follow up on my post about LGBT elder communities:
Gay and Lesbian Association of Retiring Persons, Inc.
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Aging Issues group exists, but can't find the URL, sorry!
AARP has a GLBTQ concerns group, but I don't know much about it.
posted by Dreidl at 11:07 PM on July 23, 2013


Thanks Dreidl, but don't think I will be moving to the US for my retirement! Australia's less advanced down the road of LGB (little acknowledgement of anything else) retirement, but there is one under construction in country Victoria and hopefully by the time I'm ready to retire, there will be a few more. I'm sure its 120 places will be snapped up by then.

Anyway, I still think it would be nice if there were more widespread acknowledgement of diverse sexuality throughout retirement homes—which there may be in the Hebrew Home, it would just be nice if the article explored it.
posted by Athanassiel at 11:51 PM on July 23, 2013


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