a publication of the sexuality and aging consortium at widener university

Making Sexuality a Part of Urban Aging

By Robin Goldberg-Glen, PhD, MSW

I recently attended the Urban Aging Conference in Philadelphia, P, which was focused on enhancing the quality of life for seniors. Accompanied by Jes Metzner, the Consortium’s administrative assistant, I was impressed by the diversity of services supporting this mission. They ranged from incontinence products to health-related care as well as housing and environment support for aging individuals. This level of attention to seniors was amazing and encouraging. One of the main messages was that seniors should not be defined by their problems and limitations. How refreshing it was to hear professionals acknowlege that with Baby Boomers quickly joining the ranks of seniors, Services for seniors will also routinely address sexuality and sex-positive thinking.

The Sexuality and Aging Consortium’s exhibit table at this event was a clear sign to all conference attendees that sexuality must be included in efforts to enhance the quality of life for older adults. Located between exhibits for high-quality incontinence products and Alzheimer support, we created quite a buzz at the conference. Some folks were reluctant to visit our table and cleverly detoured around us.  Others were fascinated and wanted to hear what on earth we were doing, not quite sure if we were preventing or promoting sex. Most importantly, the professionals who visited had stories to tell about what was going on in their communities with seniors and sexuality.

We heard about spouses of Alzheimer patients wanting to have intimacy but unable to continue that aspect of their lives. We heard about Alzheimer patients falling in love with other patients and needing privacy to cuddle. We heard about seniors having sex without a condom and contracting sexually transmitted infections. We were told of facility personnell without a clue how to handle sex education for residents or how to handle the intimacy needs of residents. We heard about residents who need counseling on being gay in a predominantly straight assisted living facility. Not one organization reported having a sexuality rights policy in place.

When we think about enhancing the quality of life for those who are growing older (and let’s think of that group as anyone over 50, not just some vague vision of infirm, barely alive, “old people”), let’s always include the sexual rights of seniors. They have a right to continuing sexuality, whether they seek to receive affection; to enjoy straight or same-sex relationships; o receive up-to-date sex education and information; or to enjoy the acknowledgement that sexuality doesn’t stop at a certain age; rather, it is an integral part of who we are as human beings and how we express ourselves throughout life.

The Sexuality and Aging Consortium at Widener University is changing attitudes and the way professionals serve adults in mid- and later age. I was proud to represent the Consortium at the Urban Aging Conference with Jes, contributing to our mission.


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