NY Times: Policies Lacking on Sex in Senior Living

More than half of men and 40% of women older than 60 remain sexually active, a statistic driving conversations among some senior living communities about consensual sex, who is capable of consent and how to balance residents’ privacy with that of other residents, a recent New York Times article reports. 

“These issues have not been thought through,” Ann Christine Frankowski of the Center for Aging Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, told the New York Times. “But people are beginning to talk about it.” 

At the heart of the issue, the Times writes, assisted living residents can be less physically and mentally healthy than those living independently, but their interest in remaining sexually active continues. However, a significant number of residents in assisted living have some degree of cognitive loss, which raises the question of consent. 

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The New York Times delves into the story of The Hebrew Home at Riverdale in the Bronx, which developed the first sexual rights policy for older adults in its care in 1995, as well as Sunrise Senior Living, which operates nearly 300 facilities nationwide and adopted a policy in 2008 to retrain its staff on sexual guidelines twice a year. Still, most communities have yet to make any formalized policies to deal with the sexual behavior of their residents, often leaving untrained staff responsible for responding to the situations, the article finds. 

At Hebrew Home, the policy declares that “emotional and physical intimacy” is “a normal and natural aspect of life,” and requires staff to support consensual behavior. Though the topic of consent may seem fuzzy in assisted living communities, Hebrew Home says even those with some degree of cognitive impairment can consent—due to employee questions and assessments of residents based on body language and facial expressions when it comes to their relationships. 

While Hebrew Home and The Sunrise chain have policies in place, the majority of senior living communities shy away from any mention of the words “sex” and “seniors” in the same sentence, NY Times finds. 

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Written by Emily Study

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