As I’ve mentioned in past posts, Keith and I are fortunate to be associated with The Program in Human Sexuality at the University of Minnesota. Click here for an overview of the program and a video of Keith’s and my participation in a panel presentation to university medical students.
This program has been of great benefit to the students, but it has also been a continual learning experience for Keith and me as well. The board of the Program in Human Sexuality (of which Keith is now a member) in comprised of a wide spectrum of professionals interested in creating a more educated, engaged, and sensitive approach to intimacy and sexuality. The board includes physicians, PhDs, nationally recognized sex therapists, transgender people, and clergy whose wisdom and knowledge has expanded our knowledge of the wide spectrum of sexual diversity, practices and needs among gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people, as well as the aging population, who still want to be sexually active.
Just last week we received an interview invitation from one of the board members, a doctor who specializes in female sexuality and aging. She explained that the board had recently approved funding for an in-depth study into the issues of Sex and Aging, and knowing our background and history, she thought we would be a good resource. Of course we said yes, and made arrangements to meet.
A few minutes later we received an email from her listing the questions she wanted to ask us. When I read the email I was startled…I had anticipated questions asking if we had made financial preparations for possible long-term nursing care. Had we discussed or made any adjustments to our home to make it more handicap accessible? Or had we discussed possible relocation?
Instead I found myself stunned that I had never even thought of these concerns. But the more I pondered them, the more I became intrigued by the three topics she addressed:
I want to focus on the early cognitive decline piece and what you two are doing/planning to ensure your family and any assisted living place, etc. will honor your continued desire to be intimate.
Regarding informed consent: I want to know your thinking about that. As you know, touch is one of the most important senses and is with us until death. Anything else you think caregivers should know?
Have you investigated any policies regarding remaining intimate in a care facility in your area?
These questions initiated a lot of discussion between Keith and me. As we talked, I recalled two suggestions we heard a Mayo Clinic doctor suggest to long-term care providers during one of our presentations: One, that these care providers put pressure on manufacturers of hospital beds to make a double size bed, so couples who have been intimate with each other—often for scores of years—can at least lie next to one another and provide comfort and assurance through touch. The second suggestion was for staff to offer a set amount of time when the staff will not enter a room, unless called by the occupant. This would provide undisturbed time for the occupant, with or without a visitor, to experience privacy and use this time however they wish.
The questions sparked our urgency to make time to visit the long-term care facilities in our area and specifically ask about their policies regarding intimate practices in their facilities—a task which is now on our to-do list. (So do keep watching my website, because I will let you know what I find out.)
In the meantime, I want to leave you with a piece from a site titled SeniorPlanet.org that lists the benefits of being sexually active throughout our lifetimes.