Intimacy and sexuality in aged care

When we talk about the elderly, the topics of sex and intimacy are often taboo. There is a common misconception that older people lack sexual drive, however intimacy, sexuality and sexual expression continue to be important throughout our lives.

Understanding and supporting the sexual and intimacy needs of older individuals can be challenging for staff who have limited training in the area. The area of sexuality and intimacy remains largely misunderstood and often ideas about sexuality and intimacy are informed by cultural and social constructions. Understanding the needs of older individuals is an ongoing responsibility that requires special skills and knowledge. Having a policy is essential for addressing embarrassment, confusion and helplessness around the area and for training staff to provide this level of care. Neglecting these needs can cause mental health issues and can affect self-esteem for elderly residents.

In late 2018, a research report by the Australian Centre for Evidence Based Aged Care found that less than a quarter of Australian residential aged care facilities surveyed had a policy on sexuality or sexual health, and less than one-tenth reported having a written policy. This means that the sexuality and intimacy needs of residents are at risk of being mishandled or ignored.

Policies regarding sexuality and intimacy are important to guide staff through this sensitive topic. Helping residents to connect with others and maintain relationships, including intimate relationships, is an important component of Standard 1 of the Aged Care Quality Standards: Consumer Dignity and Choice.

To help you support clients with their needs surrounding intimacy and sexuality, BNG has developed a policy and an information sheet. These outline:

  • how to maintain an inclusive environment within the organisation;
  • the importance of recognising the diversity of residents and that they all have different needs and preferences;
  • how to start a conversation around the sexual and intimacy needs of the individual;
  • how to handle unwanted or inappropriate sexual behaviours;
  • the importance of respecting the privacy of individuals; and
  • the importance of recognising the diversity of residents and treating things on a case by case basis.

The new resource will help you to develop answers for questions such as what to do if:

  • A couple moves into a residential facility, but there are no shared rooms?
  • A resident asks to pay for the weekly visits of a sex worker?
  • A resident wishes to continue to express themselves the way they did in their own home?
  • A resident is showing inappropriate behaviour towards another resident?

These are now available in SPP:

  • Policy: Intimacy and Sexuality in Aged Care
  • Info sheet: Intimacy and Sexuality in Aged Care

You can access these resources by searching for “Intimacy” in the Reading Room. 

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SPP has been a great resource for understanding and mapping Standards, preparing for Audits and also sourcing resources for policy development. I would recommend it to other organisations to complement their quality and compliance work. Information can be easily shared, and evidence gathered to support all work done.
Community mental health service provider, Victoria
I like the speed and ease of SPP, I love how it maps multiple standards. It’s so convenient, I couldn’t imagine the nightmare to do the work manually. The templates are great for gap analysis. SPP resource templates are great for implementing new policies in the office and for what we do day to day.
Large provider of settlement services to immigrants, New South Wales
I have found the SPP system amazing. It provides a structured way to work through the standards and then provide a succinct report on the evidence being provided for a surveyor to view how we meet the standard. I used this in our recent accreditation survey, the auditor was very impressed, AND we are now accredited for ISO 9001. Thanks again. A great system.
Provider of diverse range of health programs, Queensland
We really like SPP. We use the resources in the Reading Room and couldn't have passed our accreditation with flying colours without SPP.
Advocacy, support and education provider, Australian Capital Territory
Everything is going well with SPP. It’s helped us through three lots of accreditation over the past nine months plus some internal auditing, so I’m very glad to have had it to assist us through the processes.
Large regional multi-service provider, Victoria