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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