Awhile back I read in McKnight’s Long Term Care News an article about Gayle Doll, Ph.D., professor at Kansas State University. The article shared that Dr. Doll is a foremost expert on sexuality in long-term care, a path she choose as a result of examining quality of life issues. Dr. Doll is brave and I commend her.

The article got me thinking. I’ve been working in senior communities over thirty years and how often was the subject of sex discussed in relation to long term care?

Answer: Once

Only once, did I attend a professional seminar on sex and aging.

Geri Heppe, a master’s-degree- level gerontologist from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was addressing a large group of professionals in a not-for-profit-based setting in Milwaukee, WI. Geri was doing an amazing job. Anyhow, I was having a hard time holding back laughter as parts were funny and light.

But, the tone in the meeting was uncomfortable, uptight. It was more like we were listening to a presentation on how to perform brain surgery rather than talking about something as natural as sex.  

What if we changed out the word “sex” for “affection”? Humans still need to experience “sex” but what is it as we get older? I am not excluding how physical it might be, but raising the issue that “sex” as we age sex might be more inclusive. Let me share some examples.

I was reading a book by Robert Fulghum, Love Stories. It was a compilation of stories he gathered by placing classified ads (this was before the internet) in newspapers all over the USA. As I recall, each story in the book was a love story—great stories.

One of the stories related to a woman who became sick and suffered from frailty. Her husband was a plumber. The woman shared how her big, manly plumber husband would paint her toenails. Intimacy? Love?

During my years in the nursing home industry, I witnessed a love story between two elders; they were engulfed in that spark of love doing its magic. It left them giddy. Their relationship was real and special with each of them spending a little more time on how they looked. It was that unbridled energy that overtakes us at any age. That energy that makes us vulnerable and makes us do silly things. That energy that makes us live to do something special, so special, for someone else.

My point is that sex, affection, intimacy are as vital to life as breathing. We need to open up our minds and explore what it really means as we age. We need to open up our definitions of love, closeness and sexuality and include in our consciousness as well as our care plans more understanding and humanness related to the quality of life that includes discussion, training and understanding of sex.


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