It’s February and romance is in the air. Not just for the young but also for the young at heart. It may come as a surprise to you, but older adults still have sex. Not everybody embraces the idea (pun intended). So, if you find a new partner while living in assisted living, be ready to confront some sticky issues.
As a culture, we often prefer to see older adults as asexual. The misconception is that older people are no longer capable of – or interested in – having sex. Not true. Emotional and physical intimacy remains a normal and natural fact of life.
But our biases about late-in-life attachments can lead to conflict. Especially when living in a community. Be prepared to confront issues about STDs, assisted living policies, and family dynamics.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases On The Rise
Americans are living longer and in better health than previous generations. When moving into senior living, older adults are often divorced or their spouse has died.
Yet their desire for companionship and sex is not dead. Some even move to a senior community hoping to find new love.
Unfortunately, seniors aren’t always practicing safe sex. Rates of sexually transmitted diseases among older people are climbing. A Berkeley University of California Wellness study found “significant increases in STIs” among adults 65 and over:
- Chlamydia infections increased by 52%
- Syphilis infections rose by 65%
- Gonorrhea cases increased by more than 90%
If you thought having “the talk” with your teen was hard, try having it with your parent. It's difficult. But don't ignore it.
So, if you’re uncomfortable talking about safe sex with your parent or new partner, get professional help. Ask your doctor, a nurse, or a social worker to initiate the conversation.
Some forward thinking senior living communities take a proactive approach to safe sex. They discuss the topic as part of the move-in process and have condoms available. Or they invite outside professionals to come talk about the subject on a regular basis.
But most do not.
Assisted Living Policies About Intimate Relationships
Assisted living is designed for older adults who need support but value autonomy, independence, and control. Unfortunately, providers often ignore residents’ sexuality.
Residents may have private apartments, but they’re not always given privacy to engage in sex. Untrained staff will barge in at any time. They might knock but not wait for a response. Immature aides might act shocked, laugh, and shame couples.
Some communities try to separate couples when they see attachments forming. They might move them to different dining tables and encourage different activities.
From the community’s viewpoint, their mandate is providing a safe environment. They must ask and assess if sex is consensual for both parties. There’s concern if one partner is cognitively impaired and unable to consent.
A community is liable if one resident injures another. It's cause for concern if one partner is physically frail and at risk for harm during sex. Also, as couples spend more time together, they may adopt caregiving roles beyond their responsibility. Trying to lift or dress a partner can lead to injury. It’s a community’s responsibility to prevent these situations. Providing safety and sexual privacy is a delicate balancing act.
Also, a community may feel caught in the middle between residents and their families. Adult children often demand the community keep their parents apart – regardless of the parents’ wishes.
Which brings us to family dynamics. Families have widely different biases about acceptable sexual behavior.
You may not care if your dad finds a new girlfriend. Her family might be appalled – even enraged. She may be in denial that her mom even wants a sexual relationship.
A daughter might feel her dad is disrespecting her mother’s memory. A son might worry about financial exploitation.
Then there’s living arrangements. What if the couple want to live together? What are the community policies about unmarried residents sharing apartments? How will expenses be shared? What about long-term contingencies – like a serious illness?
What It Takes
These are some of the issues that come with falling in love during the “winter” years. The key is accepting the situation with understanding, sensitivity, and preparation.
If you’re moving to a senior living community, ask about their policies and rules.
- Ask if there’s ongoing staff training about older adults and sexuality?
- Ask if safe sex education and information is provided?
- How are romantic attachments between residents handled?
- Prepare for tough conversations – with partners, parents, staff, and family.
Regardless of age or where they live, adults deserve to pursue love and intimacy
Free Options Consultation
Do you feel unsure about your options? Wondering which assisted living community is the best match for you or your parent? You’re not alone. That’s why I offer a Free 1-hour consultation.
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