The nurse was frantic. She’d just seen two elderly people having sex in a room at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, New York. She asked Daniel A. Reingold, then the home’s executive vice president, what she should do.
“Tiptoe out and close the door so you don’t disturb them,” he told her.
So begins "Sex in Geriatrics Sets Hebrew Home Apart in Elderly Care," an excellent article written by Bryan Gruley for Bloomberg.com. Though many Bloomberg readers are stuck in their own ick factor, judging from some of the comments, I hope you'll come away with these ideas and questions about living in a facility:
- Does our right to sexual expression end if/when we can no longer live independently? Why?
- Who determines whether we can still express ourselves sexually, and by what guidelines do they make that decision?
- Do elders with dementia have the right to sexual expression? Who decides that, and on what basis?
- If family members are uncomfortable with us having a sexual relationship, should their wishes supersede ours?
Personally, I want the right to decide when and how I want to be touched sexually -- whether by my own hand, a partner I've chosen, or a sex toy that they'd better not pry out of my arthritic hands -- for the rest of my life. Don't you?
If I end up living in a facility, I imagine I won't submit to rules easily. I'll want only those restrictions that I request -- give me vegan meals, let me dance (whatever that means with the physical ability I have at that time) make sure I have outlets to charge my tech gadgets and vibrators, and if I close the door (alone or with another person), give me privacy.
I already knew about the Hebrew Home and its progressive policy about sex among the residents, including 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." I didn't realize they had a policy for determining sexual consent, even when a resident has dementia. I was moved and heartened to learn that.
Essentially, the home presumes that demented residents have the capacity to consent, absent evidence to the contrary, and works with families to accept the residents’ desires. Even where a resident married to someone outside the facility has sex with another resident, the home could support the relationship if it’s healthy and consensual.
"This isn’t meant to be a hospital, it’s meant to be a home," said Robin Dessel, 56, the Hebrew Home’s sexual rights educator. "A resident’s voice is foremost; it trumps everything."
I've never visited the Hebrew Home, but I'd like to.
Please read Mr. Gruley's article in its entirety -- you'll be glad that you did. I hope you'll post a comment about it here to share with our community.