There may be an “ick” factor when we think about our elders having sex. But a 2007 University of Chicago survey, “A Study of Sexuality and Health Among Older Adults in the United States,” concluded that old people — given the opportunity — are as likely to be sexually active as the young, and well into their 70s and 80s. But not in nursing homes.
It’s easy to slip into the mind-set that because these people are in institutions, this gives us free rein to decide what’s best for them. But people in nursing homes retain the same rights as the rest of us to mess up or enhance their lives with sex.
I sometimes think of aging — particularly in nursing homes — as childhood in reverse: going from independence to dependence and paternalistic control. As my baby boomer generation starts to fill up these institutions over the next couple of decades, I hope we continue to insist on our cherished rights of self-expression. In the meantime, does it makes sense that it’s easier to get a conjugal visit in a jail than in a nursing home?