Older Australians fight for their right to have their sexual needs met

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Sex and aged care. It’s not a subject often spoken about, but older Australians, along with industry professionals, believe the need for sexual intimacy in aged care is a basic human right that’s being neglected.

In an article published by the ABC yesterday, journalist Samantha Selinger-Morris reported that older Australians are speaking out about the need for the right to sexual contact in aged care facilities. A number of industry professionals agree – for too long now, older people in aged facilities have been denied the right to have their sexual needs addressed.

Ms Selinger-Morris writes of a sex worker in Sydney who regularly ‘meets’ a 91-year-old man with dementia in his nursing home. The worker, known by the alias ‘Emma’, said that when she first met with the elderly man, ‘George’, she had to do so ‘cloak and dagger’ style.

“You had to sneak in, pretend to be God knows what,” says Emma.

Luckily, George’s carers understand his needs.

Nowadays, says Emma: “His primary carer welcomes me when I come in, waits outside, comes back in when I help lift him onto the bed, helps me when I finish with him, and hands me the white envelope with payment. It’s a pretty profound thing.” 

George’s case is one for the books. A 2016 study about the recognition of sexuality and sexual health in aged care facilities found that around 40 per cent of these facilities had little or no training about the sexual rights of older people.

The study’s leader, Dr Michael Bauer, is a committed advocate for the sexual rights of older Australians. He writes: “Sexuality remains important for many older people; however, embarrassment, dissatisfaction with treatment, negative attitudes and seeming disinterest by health professionals can all inhibit discussions. Professionals and health-care services need to adopt strategies and demonstrate characteristics which create environments that are more supportive of sexuality. Issues related to sexuality and sexual health should be able to be discussed without anxiety or discomfort so that older people receive optimal care and treatment.”

One organisation that has heeded this call, Touching Base NSW, is a group of sex workers and people with disabilities who are champions of this cause. The organisation facilitates the links between older people, people with disability, and sex workers, to help them develop relationships, have sex and express their sexuality at all stages of life.

And earlier this year, Dr Catherine Barrett launched the OPAL Institute, which was established to promote the sexual rights of older people.

Currently, there is no legislation to protect the sexual and intimate rights of older Australians in aged care apart from the Charter of Residents’ Rights and Responsibilities which states that residents should have their “individual preferences taken into account and treated with respect”. According to Alison Rahn, who is writing a paper on aged care residents and intimacy, says that because of the lack of specific legislation: “… residents are subject to the whims, personal values and knee-jerk reactions of the staff members who care for them, many of whom are often young and without much training”.

Just because a person enters aged care doesn’t mean they should lose the entitlement to have a basic human right addressed. Sex is a basic human instinct, and that doesn’t necessarily go away with age. It’s clear there is a need for a re-assessment of the need for aged care residents to express themselves sexually, without prejudice, with a touch of humour and with the realisation that sex is a natural part of life.

It would seem that baby boomers who started the sexual revolution in the 60s and 70s are still fighting the good fight in their 60s, 70s and beyond.

What do you think about this issue? Is the right to sexual intimacy important to you? Should the Government step in and create legislation that specifically protects the sexual rights of aged care residents? Have you had any experience dealing with this, either for yourself or for a loved one in aged care? Why not share your story with our members?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?



Total Comments: 16
  1. 0

    This is quite an important issue which certainly deserves attention from aged facilities. Age does not divest anyone from the rights entitled to a younger person, nor the necessity to have the privacy to exercise and enjoy those physical, mental, and emotional experiences. BUT, the government does not even have the mentality to understand that the elderly needs to have their rightful savings protected or the foolish, unjust, demeaning, and inequitable pension changes would not be EVEN CONSIDERED!

  2. 0

    I can remember when I was training to work in Aged Care some of the younger ones on the course pulled a face when the mention of older people even wanting to hold hands. Now retired in my 70’s my husband & I still like to hold hands. We may not romp around like we did in our 50s or even 60 s but we still like to express our feelings.

  3. 0

    May I suggest the following two sites for valuable information both for Seniors AND especially for Care-givers on the topic of Sexuality and Ageing:



  4. 0

    One very important aspect that is being missed here is Aged care for married couples that want to stay together. At the very best, you may have one in one room and their partner down the hall in another room. At worst, married couples are separated and often sent to different institutions. Something about lack of vacancy. When we were looking for aged care for our parents, we were told very bluntly that married couples of that age often don’t want to stay together. If you push the issue, young staff look at you like you are some sort of pervert.The only place we found that welcomed married couples, provided both were classified to same level of care, wanted $1.5Million just to get in. SO if you are a married couple and want to stay together, DONT GET INTO AGED CARE.

    • 0

      Sorry to read Mike I had hoped by now there was more enlightment in Aged Care facilities. I only have experience with QLD but know the difficulties another of my cousin s had when putting their parents in Care in Vic. But they did have 2 different needs by then & the facility they did end up in were reasonably understanding compared to others. I personally want o stay in our own home as long as is possible. Have my fingers crossed we do thanks for your comment.

    • 0

      That is true Mike, and something which Ms Selinger-Morris covers in her article. Seems so weird that staff could rule over a long-term personal relationship, but it does happen …

    • 0

      Reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

  5. 0

    My occupation is a personal carer in agecare, and I think the elderly have needs just like everyone,even if they have onset of dementia. I think having a professional sex worker fulfilling the elderly’s needs are fine as long as the sex worker is clean, meaning no diseases and works in a professional way,Not sleazy.But I feel that this needs to be written in the residents needs when first entering a Agecare facility. And must be treated professionally and their privacy kept inside the facility. The staff also need to act professional about this. The problem I find working in facilities is the lack of trained staff that have nothing better to do than to chit chat amongst themselves about the residents, that needs to stop in order to run a Agecare facility properly and professionally. It’s just appalling that this happens and I find the Director of facilities turn a blind eye to what goes on. But I hope that someday soon the elderly get their needs met and the bad staff are replaced with caring,understanding, professional workers and nursing staff.

  6. 0

    Vivi & Chilli – have you read the 2 links that I sent?? The articles address some of the issues raised. You may have to “copy & paste” into your browsers address line as this comment site does not allow for hyperlinks. Cheers.



  7. 0

    Any chance of getting George’s email addy? Would like to know his secret! Do they serve a lot of oysters in his facility?? 🙂

  8. 0

    Hey Kenter Are you on drugs?

  9. 0

    Aged care homes are usually 10:1 female to male ratio. Is this what very young man dreamed of? Of course older people should have the same rights as any other human being. I think the children start to worry when Grandma all of a sudden finds the man of her elderly dreams and is prepared to throw away all her financial security for the sake of company.

  10. 0

    That meansI I should not be disturbed having intimate moments with my vibrator.

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