Search Results: Cognitive

You are browsing the search results for cognitive

Why Sex Education for Disabled People Is So Important

Share

“Just because a person has a disability does not mean they don’t still have the same hormones and sexual desires as other individuals.”

 

By

“Sex and disability, disability and sex; the two words may seem incompatible,” Michael A. Rembis wrote in his 2009 paper on the social model of disabled sexuality. Though roughly 15% of adults around the world (that’s nearly one billion people), and over 20 million adults in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 64 have a disability, when it comes to disability and sex, there’s a disconnect. People with disabilities often have rich and satisfying sex lives. So why are they frequently treated as though they are incapable of having sexual needs and desires, and are excluded from sexual health education curriculum?

According to Kehau Gunderson, the lead trainer and senior health educator at Health Connected, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing comprehensive sexual health education programs throughout the state of California, the sexual health and safety of students with disabilities is often not prioritized because educators are more focused on other aspects of the students’ well-being. “Educators are thinking more about these students’ physical needs. They don’t see them as being sexual people with sexual needs and desires. They don’t see them as wanting relationships,” Gunderson told me when I met her and the rest of the Health Connected team at their office in Redwood City, California.

When I asked why students with disabilities have historically been excluded from sexual education, Jennifer Rogers, who also works as a health education specialist at Health Connected, chimed in. “In general, the topic of sex is something that is challenging for a lot of people to talk about. I think that aspect compounded with someone with specialized learning needs can be even more challenging if you’re not a teacher who’s really comfortable delivering this kind of material,” she said.

But it was the third health education specialist I spoke with, DeAnna Quan, who really hit the nail on the head: “I think sometimes it also has to do with not having the materials and having trouble adapting the materials as well. While people often just don’t see disabled people as being sexual beings, they are. And this is a population who really needs this information.”

The complete lack of sexual education in many schools for students with disabilities is particularly alarming given the fact that individuals with disabilities are at a much higher risk of sexual assault and abuse. In fact, children with disabilities are up to four times more likely to face abuse and women with disabilities are nearly 40% more likely to face abuse in adulthood. Yet students in special education classes are often denied the option to participate in sex education at all. When these students are included in mainstream health courses, the curriculum is often inaccessible.

Disability activist Anne Finger wrote, “Sexuality is often the source of our deepest pain. It’s easier for us to talk about and formulate strategies for changing discrimination in employment, education, and housing than to talk about our exclusion from sexuality and reproduction.” But as Robert McRuer wrote in Disabling Sex: Notes for a Crip Theory of Sexuality, “What if disability were sexy? And what if disabled people were understood to be both subjects and objects of a multiplicity of erotic desires and practices, both within and outside the parameters of heteronormative sexuality?”

When it comes to disability and sexuality, a large part of the issue lies in the fact that disabled people are so infrequently included in the decisions made about their bodies, their education, and their care. So what do people with disabilities wish they had learned in sex ed? This is what students and adults with disabilities said about their experience in sexual health courses and what they wish they had learned.

People with disabilities are not automatically asexual.

“The idea of people with disabilities as asexual beings who have no need for love, sex, or romantic relationships is ridiculous. However, it is one that has a stronghold in most people’s minds,” wrote disability activist Nidhi Goyal in her article, “Why Should Disability Spell the End of Romance?” That may be because disabled people are often seen as being innocent and childlike, one disabled activist said.

“As a society, we don’t talk about sex enough from a pleasure-based perspective. So much is focused on fertility and reproduction — and that’s not always something abled people think disabled people should or can do. We’re infantilized, stripped of our sexuality, and presumed to be non-sexual beings. Plenty of us are asexual, but plenty of us are very sexual as well, like me. Like anyone of any ability, we hit every spot on the spectrum from straight to gay, cis to trans, sexual to asexual, romantic to aromantic, and more.” Kirsten Schultz, a 29-year-old disabled, genderqueer, and pansexual health activist, sexuality educator, and writer, said via email.

Kirsten, who due to numerous chronic illnesses has lived with disability since she was five years old, was not exposed to information regarding her sexual health and bodily autonomy. “I dealt with sexual abuse from another child right after I fell ill, and this continued for years. I bring this up because my mother didn’t share a lot of sex ed stuff with me at home because of illness. This infantilization is not uncommon in the disability world, especially for kids,” she said.

Growing up in Oregon, Kirsten said she was homeschooled until the age of 13 and didn’t begin seeing medical professionals regularly until she turned 21. “This means all sexual education I learned until 13 was on my own, and from 13 to 21, it was all stuff I either sought out or was taught in school.” Schultz explained. But even what she learned about sex in school was limited. “School-based education, even in the liberal state of Oregon, where I grew up, was focused on sharing the potential negatives of sex — STIs, pregnancy, etc. Almost none of it was pleasure-based and it wasn’t accessible. Up until I was in college, the few positions I tried were all things I had seen in porn…AKA they weren’t comfortable or effective for me,” she added.

Internet safety matters, too.

While many disabled people are infantilized, others are often oversexualized. K Wheeler, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Washington, was only 12 the first time their photos were stolen off of the Internet and posted on websites fetishizing amputees. K, who was born with congenital amputation and identifies as demisexual, panromantic, and disabled, thinks this is something students with disabilities need to know about. “There’s a whole side of the Internet where people will seek out people with disabilities, friend them on Facebook, steal their photos, and use them on websites,” she said.

These groups of people who fetishize amputees are known as “amputee devotees.” K had heard of this fetish thanks to prior education from her mother, but not everyone knows how to keep themselves safe on the Internet. “This is something that people with disabilities need to know, that a person without a disability might not think of, ” K said.

K also believes more general Internet privacy information should also be discussed in sex ed courses. “In the technological age that we’re in, I feel like Internet privacy should be talked about,” they said. This includes things like consent and sending naked photos with a significant other if you’re under 18. “That is technically a crime. It’s not just parents saying ‘don’t do it because we don’t want you to.’ One or both of you could get in trouble legally,” K added.

Understanding what kinds of sexual protection to use.

Isaac Thomas, a 21-year-old student at Valencia College in Orlando, lives with a visual impairment and went to a high school that he said didn’t even offer sexual education courses. “I did go to a school for students with disabilities and, unfortunately, during my entire time there, there was never any type of sexual education class,” he said.

And Isaac noted that sexual awareness plays a large role in protection. “They should understand that just because a person has a disability, does not mean they don’t still have the same hormones and sexual desires as other individuals. It’s even more important that they teach sex education to people that have disabilities so they’re not taken advantage of in any kind of sexual way. If anything, it should be taught even more among the disabled community. Ignoring this problem will not make it go away. If this problem is not addressed, it will increase,” Isaac said.

Before entering college, Isaac said he wishes he had received more information about condoms. “I wish I had learned what types of condoms are best for protection. I should’ve also learned the best type of contraceptive pills to have in case unplanned sexual activity happens with friends or coworkers.”

Body image matters.

Nicole Tencic, a 23-year-old senior at Molloy College in New York, who is disabled, fine-motor challenged, and hearing impaired, believes in the importance of exploring and promoting positive body image for all bodies. Nicole, who became disabled at the age of six after undergoing high-dose chemotherapy, struggled to accept herself and her disability. “I became disabled when I was old enough to distinguish that something was wrong. I was very self-conscience. Accepting my disability was hard for me and emotionally disturbing,” she shared. “I was always concerned about what other people thought of me, and I was always very shy and quiet.”

It was when she entered college that Nicole really came to accept her body, embrace her sexuality, and develop an interest in dating. “I had my first boyfriend at 21. The reason I waited so long to date is because I needed to accept myself and my differences before I cared for anyone else. I couldn’t allow myself to bring someone into my life if I was unaccepting of myself, and if I did, I would be selfish because I would be more concerned about myself,” Nicole said. She also recognized the fact that while sexuality and disability are separate topics that need to be addressed differently, they can impact each other. “Disability may influence sexuality in terms of what you like and dislike, and can and cannot do,” but overall, “one’s sexuality does not have to do with one’s disability,” she clarified.

It’s important to make sex ed inclusive to multi-marginalized populations.

Dominick Evans, a queer and transgender man living with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, various chronic health disabilities, and OCD, believes in the importance of sexual education stretching beyond the cisgender, heteronormative perspective. He also understands the dangers associated with being a member of a marginalized group. “The more marginalized you are, the less safe you are when it comes to sex,” he said in an email.

Dominick, who works as a filmmaker, writer, and media and entertainment advocate for the Center for Disability Rights, has even developed policy ideas related to increased inclusion for students with disabilities — especially LGBTQ students with disabilities. “These students are at higher risk of sexual assault and rape, STIs like HIV, unplanned pregnancies, and manipulation in sexual situations,” Dominick said. “Since disabled LGBTQIA students do not have access to sexual education, sometimes at all, let alone education that makes sense for their bodies and sexual orientation, it makes sense the rates for disabled people when it comes to sexual assault and STIs are so much higher.”

According to Dominick, the fact that many disabled students are denied access to sexual health curriculum is at the root of the problem. “When it comes to disparities in the numbers of sexual assault, rape, STIs, etc. for all disabled students, not having access to sexual education is part of the problem. We know this is specifically linked to lack of sex ed, which is why sex ed must begin addressing these disparities.”

So what does Dominick have in mind in terms of educational policies to help improve this issue? “The curriculum would highlight teaching students how to protect themselves from sexual abuse, STI and pregnancy prevention campaigns geared specifically at all disabled and LGBTQIA youth, ensuring IEPs (individualized education programs) cover sex ed inclusion strategies, access to information about sexuality and gender identity, and additional education to address disparities that affect disabled LGBTQIA students who are people of color.”

Understanding power dynamics and consent.

It’s important to understand the power dynamic that often exists between people with disabilities and their caretakers. Many people with disabilities rely on their caretakers to perform basic tasks, like getting ready in the morning. Women with disabilities are 40% more likely to experience intimate partner violence compared to non-disabled women. This includes sexual, emotional, financial, and physical abuse, as well as neglect. For this reason, women with disabilities are less likely to report their abusers.

“Sometimes they’re more likely to think ‘this is the only relationship I can get,’ so they’re more likely to stay in these abusive relationships or have less access to even pursue courses of action to get out of the relationship. Especially if there is dependence on their partner in some way,” said K.

Dominick agreed. “Many of us often grow up believing we may not even be able to have sexual relationships. We often grow up believing our bodies are disgusting and there is something wrong with them,” he said. “So, when someone, especially someone with some type of power over us like a teacher or caregiver, shows us sexual attention and we believe we don’t deserve anything better or will never have the opportunity for sex again, it is easy to see why some disabled people are able to be manipulated or harmed in sexual situations.”

Dominick said this ideology led to his first sexual experience. “I probably should not have been having sex because I lost [my virginity] believing I had to take whatever opportunities I received,” he said, before going on to acknowledge the falsehood in these assumptions. “I’ve had many other relationships since then, and my last partner, I’ve been with for 15 years.”

But when it comes to disability, consent can be tricky. Some disabilities make communication a challenge. The lack of sexual education for many developmentally disabled students means they often don’t understand the concept of consent.

People with disabilities are more at risk for sexual exploitation and abuse.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, children with disabilities also face a much higher risk of abuse. In 2009, 11% of all child abuse victims had a behavioral, cognitive, or physical disability. In fact, when compared to non-disabled children, children with disabilities are twice as likely to be physically or sexually abused. Those living with developmental disabilities are anywhere from 4 to 10 times more likely to face abuse.

Deni Fraser, the assistant principal at the Lavelle School for the Blind, a school in New York City dedicated to teaching students with visual impairment and developmental disabilities, believes it’s important for all students to understand the importance of boundaries, both other people’s and their own. Many students at the school, who range in age from 2 to 21, also have co-morbid diagnoses, making the students’ needs varied.

“It’s important for our students to know that we want them to be safe at all times,” Fraser said. “Letting them know what’s appropriate touch, not only them touching others, but other people touching them; saying things to them; for people not taking advantage of them; knowing who is safe to talk to and who is safe to be in your personal space; if there’s anything going on with your body, who would be the appropriate person to talk to; not sharing private information — so what is privacy; and the importance of understanding safe strangers, like doctors, versus non-safe strangers.”

The portrayal of disabled bodies matters.

The media also plays a part in perpetuating the idea that individuals with disabilities do not have sex. Sexuality is often viewed as unnatural for individuals with disabilities, and many disabled students internalize that. “Even Tyrion Lannister, one of the most sexual disabled characters on television, usually has to pay for sex, and even he was horribly deceived the first time he had a sexual experience,” Dominick noted. “If the media is not even saying sex is normal or natural for disabled people, and sex education is not inclusive, then often disabled people are having to learn about and understand sex on their own,” he added.

Many students with disabilities also want to see their bodies reflected in sexual education materials. “Part of the curriculum at a lot of different schools includes showing some level of video,” K said. But including a person with a visible physical disability in these videos would go a long way in helping to shatter the stigma surrounding sex and disability, she said. According to K, this would help people understand that sex isn’t only for able-bodied people.

People with disabilities make up a large part of the population. They’re the one minority group any person can become a part of at any time. Therefore, incorporating disability-related information into sexual education curriculum not only benefits students who are already disabled, but it can help students who, at some point in their lives, will experience disability. Embracing an inclusive approach and keeping bias out of the classroom would help raise awareness, create empathy, and celebrate diversity. By listening to disabled voices, we can work toward a society that values inclusivity.

Complete Article HERE!

Share

Old people still like sex

Share

Sex educator Jane Fleishman says intimacy improves life regardless of age

Bodies change, but they don’t necessarily become less beautiful.

Jane Fleishman

Erectile dysfunction is a factor for many men, but it can be dealt with.

Aging doesn’t have to mean the end of intimacy.

Sex is part of living and you don’t have to be young to enjoy it, sex educator Jane Fleishman of Deerfield told a group gathered to hear her talk at the assisted living facility Christopher Heights in Northampton recently.

“I am on a mission to change the way continuing care communities treat end-of -life care,” she said following her talk in mid September. “I don’t want to wait around, I want to see change happen in my lifetime.”

To that end, Fleishman, 63, a fast-talking native New Yorker, has been traveling the country holding workshops to spread her message.

“There is no expiration date on sex,” she told the crowd of about four dozen people, mostly residents, at Christopher Heights. Sharing intimacy is an important contributor to good quality of life, she says. Older adults who are more sexually active have a lower instance of heart disease and dementia, she added. “We know that people’s well-being is affected.”

One study that seems to support that was done by a team of researchers from Coventry University in Britain who found that having an active sex life leads to less mental deterioration as people age.

In 2010 researchers surveyed men in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, and found that they continue to live sexually satisfied lives, according to a study in the medical journal the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“Sex makes you feel alive – it makes you feel sensually connected to yourself,” said Monica Levine, a clinical social worker who runs a private practice in Northampton and is a certified sex therapist.

Edie Daly, 80, of Northampton, a petite woman with short white hair who was at the talk, says sex continues to be an important part of her life. In fact, she says, the best sex of her life started only after she met her wife at age 60.

“We have a deep abiding love,” she said, adding that she can’t imagine life without sex and other intimate touch. “Sex is another form of communication.”

Getting creative

But sex doesn’t always come easy —  and that’s OK — sometimes it takes a little creativity for older adults to reach satisfaction or to accommodate their changing bodies, Fleishman says.

Joint pain from arthritis, for instance, can make sex uncomfortable. Warm baths or changing positions might make intimacy more comfortable and ease any pain, according to the National Institute on Aging, a federal government organization in Baltimore which researches health in older people.

In cases of erectile dysfunction, massage is one approach that can help, says Fleishman. For vaginal dryness, there are lubricants.

Another woman who came to the talk, Mae Lococo, 93, who lives at Christopher Heights, says her husband was “quite vigorous” in bed up until he passed away two years ago. He was also an excellent ballroom dancer, she adds. She wouldn’t mind meeting another man now, she says, but notes there is a shortage of them at her age.

Consent always a factor

There can be a dark side to sex for those who are residents of nursing homes or other facilities, says Fleishman — the possibility of sexual abuse. She encourages younger people to talk to their parents to make sure they aren’t being victimized in some way. It is important, she says, that they feel free to approach a family member or other advocate for help. Just as younger people need to be aware of the boundaries of consent, older people need to understand them too, she says. Sometimes, as people age, they may experience some cognitive decline or dementia, which can make consenting to sex more difficult. That, she says, makes it particularly important for advocates to look out for them. “Consent is complicated when you get older.”

Aging adults also must continue to be aware of sexually transmitted infections, she says. “Sometimes people say, ‘I’m not going to get pregnant, so why does he need to wear a condom?’ While older adults face the same risks as other populations, sexually transmitted diseases often aren’t on the radar of their doctors, she says.

“They might be thinking the same way their patients’ offspring are: ‘Oh, that’s granddad, he can’t be having sex’ or ‘That’s grandma, she can’t be doing it, she can barely get down the stairs.’

“Well, even if she can’t get down the stairs she still might be able to have some fun upstairs,” Fleishman said.

Get over it

At age 55, Fleishman retired from her 30-year career as director of staff development at Connecticut Valley Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Middletown, Connecticut and went back to school to get a doctorate in human sexuality from Widener University in Pennsylvania.

In addition to holding sessions on sexuality, she is writing a book about LGBT elders. She wants people to get over feeling squeamish about sexuality among the older generation.

“When I talk to young people about what they think old people do in bed and they get all nervous,” she says. “They say, ‘Too many wrinkles’ or ‘eww.’ Well, if you are lucky enough you will get there and you will realize, it isn’t so bad.”

Complete Article HERE!

Share

A new way to think about dementia and sex

Share


There’s an urgent need for a new ethic of dementia care that supports the facilitation of sexual expression.

By and

Persons living with dementia don’t have sex. Or they have weird sex. Or they have dangerous sex, in need of containment.

When it comes to dementia and sexuality, negative language and apocalyptic warnings abound. The aging population has been described in the media as a “rape case time-bomb.” Health practitioners often respond in punishing ways to sexual activity in residential care. And the sexual rights of persons living with dementia are largely ignored within residential care policy, professional training and clinical guidelines.

As critical social researchers, we argue that a new ethic of dementia care is urgently needed, one that supports the facilitation of sexual expression.

Practitioners and administrators often hold negative and judgmental attitudes about dementia and aged sexuality

Our research at the University of Toronto and the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute-University Health Network investigates embodiment, relationality, ethics and dementia. We are motivated by a shared concern about the reductive focus of dementia care on basic physical needs, and our desire to foster a more humane and life-enriching culture of care. We have explored how the sexualities of persons living with dementia are poorly supported in long-term residential care settings such as nursing homes.

Sex and dementia in the media

When we see persons living with dementia and sex linked in the media, it tends to be in high profile cases of

Institutional policies, structures and practices must support sexual expression.

alleged abuse. One example is the legal trial of Henry Rayhons, an Iowa lawmaker found not guilty of sexually abusing his wife who at the time was living with dementia in a nursing home. Another example is the wider investigation into sexual assaults in nursing homes in Ontario.

Vital as such investigations are to the safety of residents in long-term care, we rarely see sexual expression valued or as fundamental to human flourishing.

Our research has explored how these negative representations of the sexualities of persons living with dementia are also found within long-term residential care settings such as nursing homes.

Practitioners and administrators often hold negative and judgmental attitudes about dementia and aged sexuality. When faced with sexual activity, they can intervene in threatening and punishing ways. And long-term care policies, professional training and clinical guidelines tend to ignore the sexual rights of persons with dementia.

The problem with biomedical ethics

The sexualities of persons living with dementia are considered troubling partly because long-term care polices are shaped by biomedical ethics. This ethical approach relies on four core principles: autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice. These principles support intervening in residents’ sexual expression if it will cause harm to themselves or cause harm or offence to others.

However, this approach sets the bar for practitioners’ interference excessively high. It can restrict voluntary sexual expression by residents living with dementia in nursing homes.

Biomedical ethics also ignore the performative, embodied and relational aspects of ethical reasoning. It assumes that people are rational autonomous beings. It also assumes that self-expression, including sexuality, results only from cognitive and reflective decision making. Given that dementia involves progressive cognitive impairment, persons living with dementia may be unfairly discriminated against by this approach to sexual decision making.

A duty to support sexual expression

We use a model of relational citizenship to create an alternative ethic in which sexuality is seen as embodied self-expression. It is an ethic that recognizes human beings as embodied and embedded in a lifeworld. And one that views sexuality as an important part of being human.

Social and leisure activities supportive of the development of intimate relationships are essential within nursing homes.

This new ethic broadens the goals of dementia care. No longer do health professionals just have the duty to protect persons with dementia from harm. There is also a duty to support their right to sexual expression.

We argue that institutional policies, structures and practices must also support sexual expression. These should facilitate sexual rights. We must also introduce education for health professionals and the broader public — and policy initiatives to counteract the stigma associated with sexuality and dementia.

Social and leisure activities that are supportive of sexual expression and the development of intimate relationships are also essential within nursing homes.

Of course, protection from unwanted contact or sexual harm is still important. However, freedom of sexual expression should only be restricted when necessary to protect the health and safety of the individuals involved.

Complete Article HERE!

Share

Benefits Of Frequent Sex As You Age

Share

A High Sex Drive May Protect Language And Visual Skills

Sex shouldn’t stop just because you’ve gotten older.

By

Declining brain power is a real worry for some people as they age, but new research from England suggests a fun and healthy way to keep your mind sharp, no matter how old you get – sex. According to the study, frequent sexual activity has been linked to improved brain function in older adults, adding yet another health benefit to everyone’s favorite activity.

The study, published online in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological and Social Sciences, found that people who had sex more frequently scored higher on tests to measure their verbal fluency and their ability to visually perceive objects and spaces between them. This suggests that sex can act as a sort of exercise for the brain, helping to keep it sharp as we age, though researchers aren’t sure exactly why.

“We can only speculate whether this is driven by social or physical elements — but an area we would like to research further is the biological mechanisms that may influence this,” Lead researcher Dr Hayley Wright said in a recent statement on ScienceDaily. “Every time we do another piece of research we are getting a little bit closer to understanding why this association exists at all, what the underlying mechanisms are, and whether there is a ’cause and effect’ relationship between sexual activity and cognitive function in older people.

For the study, the team from Coventry University and Oxford University interviewed 73 people between 50 and 83 years old about their sex lives. The volunteers were asked to fill out a questionnaire which asked how often they had sex, as well as other general questions about their health and lifestyle. The volunteers also took a standardized test that measured different aspect of their cognitive function, such as their ability to pay attention and remember facts, as well as their language and visuospatial skills. Results revealed that increased sexual activity was linked to increased verbal fluency and visuospatial skills. However, sexual activity seemed to have no affect on their attention skills, memory, or language.

This isn’t the first study to look into the benefits of sex in older individuals. For example, in 2016, the same team found that the protective effects of sex on the brain were stronger in men than women. The team speculate that sex may help protect the brain through the release of dopamine and oxytocin, two hormones that not only cause good feelings, but are also vital to brain function by improving connectivity between certain parts of the brain.

Regardless of why sex is helpful for the brains of older individuals, these results suggest that sex is an important part of our health and shouldn’t be discarded just because you age.

“People don’t like to think that older people have sex — but we need to challenge this conception at a societal level and look at what impact sexual activity can have on those aged 50 and over, beyond the known effects on sexual health and general wellbeing,” said Wright.

Complete Article HERE!

Share

It’s not just about sex

Share

The basic human need of intimacy does not disappear as we age however in aged care planning it is mostly overlooked and often regarded as inappropriate.

by Annie Waddington-Feather

Couples in aged care facilities are being given little to no privacy in their intimate and sexual relationships, and it’s often the staff who prevent couples from having this intimacy.

A UK study involving residents, non-resident female spouses of residents with a dementia and 16 care staff, carried out last year, found feedback very different from the stereotypical assumption of older people not been sexual.

Carried out by a research team for the Older People’s Understandings of Sexuality (OPUS), some participants denied their sexuality, others expressed nostalgia for something they considered as belonging in the past, and some still expressed an openness to sex and intimacy.

More recently a New Zealand pilot study carried out by Associate Professor Mark Henrickson, from the School of Social Work, and School of Nursing senior lecturer Dr Catherine Cook explored attitudes to sexuality in aged residential care facilities.

They found the need for better understanding of the intimacy needs of older people and a significant number of staff, families and residents are managing complex situations without clear processes to protect residents’ rights and safety.

Intimacy in a care home setting is complicated. Issues include querying consent for someone who is in cognitive decline, staff managing adult children who deem their parent’s behaviour as wrong, and a lack of privacy for couples. Plus, there is a stereotype to overcome – for many sex and intimacy is associated with youth, not older people.

“We are a microcosm of an ageist culture,” says Australian expert Dr Catherine Barrett, Director, Celebrate Ageing.

Dr Barrett’s views go beyond a person’s sexuality and importance of sex, believing there should also be a focus on non-sexual physical intimacy. She highlights a study by the University of Queensland where babies were found to recover quicker if they are touched.

“We need to focus more broadly,” she says. “Some people have sexual relationships because they’re lacking skin on skin touch. Known as ‘skin hunger’ (also known as touch hunger) it is a need for physical human contact, and this can be mistaken as a need for sex.”

She cites one example of a male resident who behaved very inappropriately to any females in the room. “A massage therapist came once a week and he stopped doing what he was doing,” she says. While some residential homes do access sex workers, Dr Barret says in some cases it’s simply for a person to come over and cuddle.

Aged care advocate Anne Fairhall, whose husband of over 50 years is living with dementia and is in a care home says they both missed skin contact. And it wasn’t just between the two of them. “In an aged care home, everyone puts on rubber gloves,” she points out.

Ms Fairhall believes people living with dementia respond very well to love, affection and intimacy. “We’d gone from sleeping in one bed to sleeping in two different locations, and he asked me ‘do you still love me?’; he couldn’t comprehend why I’d put him in a home.” she says. “But it’s not just about holding his hand; it’s about having some privacy.”

“It’s also about eye contact, an arm around the shoulder and stroking his skin. It’s giving him the body language message I’m connecting with him,” says Ms Fairhall. “I’d go in later in the day, sit close to him at dinner and after he’d eaten, get him into his pyjamas, kiss, cuddle and put cheek to cheek.”

Just lying beside her husband is comforting. “Staff are surprised if they walk in and they are a bit embarrassed at first– less so now as they get to know you,” she says.

Dr Barret is calling for more training and education to be given. “We can’t point the finger and say ‘not good enough’ to aged care homes – we need to be asking how we can help,” she says.

To this end, through the OPAL (Older People And SexuaLity) Institute, Dr Barret has developed a set of tools and resources for service providers and organisations. This includes holding workshops and helping develop policies and procedures around sexuality and intimacy.

After attending one of the workshops, Victorian provider Cooinda is in the process of implementing a sexuality policy template.

“This is an important step forward in what we do and the care we give,” says April Betheras, community support, Cooinda. “We talk a lot about person centred care and we have ideas about sexuality and intimacy, but the big thing is being able to think about the whole picture. It’s about identifying with the person and having the conversation.”

She says there is more communication with residents about the subject now, but acknowledges not all residents want to participate. “While some feel that [sexual] part of their life has gone, there are other ways of being close,” says Ms Betheras. “A partner can participate in aspects of care. This is what keeps them close and feeling connected still.”

Training in sexuality and intimacy is also now compulsory for staff. “Staff feel confident in speaking about and dealing with issues. For instance if someone wants access to a sex worker, what would you do that? Who would you go to?,” says Ms Betheras. “LGBTI is also incorporated so we can consider all particular needs.”

Complete Article HERE!

Share