We all have that dream of an extended luxury vacation. You are waited on hand and foot. Your linens are changed, your laundry taken care of. Food designed just for you is created and served to you, or even brought to your personally appointed room. You have nothing to do but relax, to chat with others of your station. In the mornings they put you in a comfy chair to take in the sun, and in the evening there's turn down service.....
Because, of course we all dream of our nursing home at the end of life, don't we?
No, actually, we do not. We all dread it. But, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, slightly over 5 percent of the 65+ population occupy nursing homes or the like. 35% of us will at some time need to enter nursing home care. And the numbers are growing as the aging population does. We don't think about it until we have to, but we have to, friends.
It's hard enough to talk about nursing homes. Let's make it even more awkward: how about sex in nursing homes?
Whether you are comfortable or not, there is a growing movement to give nursing home residents back the dignity of a sex life. In one rather famous example, the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in New Jersey has an explicit policy on sex between residents and with partners not living in the home. And the policy isn't "NO! GROSS, Grandma!" Not all homes have policies, but it is a increasingly talked about issue in training and research around aging. First they take your salt, then they take your car keys, but what about your sexy time?
It is time for us all to consider, along with wishes regarding side-rails on beds and non-slip socks, bedroom behaviors and condoms, too. If not for our parents, in our wishes expressed to our kids about our own sexual identities and desires. If Grandpa doesn't recognize grandma any more, can he take a lover? If Aunt Mae fancies Aunt Camille in the next bed over, should the staff knock first? Are there conjugal visits allowed in your nursing home of choice? What's consent mean with dementia? Why does being medically fragile mean losing intimacy, too?
It isn't simple, and it falls to the children of the resident, usually, people who are probably the least likely to have had a plan for managing their parents' hormones.
This week's Our Better Half podcast features a daughter who had to make such a plan, and illustrates all the complexity of caring for parents when it comes to their sex lives. Author, Laura Zera, explains what happens when she and her sister were asked whether their mother's nursing home affair should be broken up.