Nursing homes and sex

Over 30 years ago, a sociologist in Arkansas suggested that nursing homes should have "privacy rooms" for residents to do whatever they want to do in private. All the nursing home operators he talked to rejected the idea, and things haven't changed much since then.

According to the law, you have the right to a sex life wherever you reside. In the United States, the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 says that nursing homes must maintain an environment where each resident can "attain and maintain his or her highest practicable physical, mental and psychosocial well-being." There is also a Residents' Bill of Rights, which includes the right to privacy and the accommodation of personal needs.

Despite these laws, sex is very rare in nursing homes. This is not because seniors don't want to have sex; according to studies, the elderly are just as likely to be sexually active as the young. Most healthy seniors remain sexually active well into their 70s and 80s. But this is not the case in nursing homes.

Privacy is hard to find in nursing homes. Doors are always left open; closed doors are viewed with suspicion. Aides and custodians walk into rooms without knocking. Of course, if the door is wide open, there is nothing to knock on. Inside the rooms there is only a curtain for privacy, and rooms are usually shared with a total stranger. Residents are not likely to have sex under these conditions.

There is one nursing home in New York with a policy that recognizes the right to "sexual expression," but this is the exception. In most nursing homes, there is little to no privacy, and it's rare to hear people talking about sex without words like "inappropriate" or "offense."

Some people may think that we have the right to decide what's best for people living in institutions. But nursing home residents have the same rights as everyone else, including the right to a sex life.

Source: Rosofsky, Ira. "Sex bans in nursing homes." The Los Angeles Times. 3 Aug 2009. 19 Aug 2009.