Thursday, June 12, 2008

GENERAL STUFF: Old people sex

Thanks to Jacki Danicki for the heads up on Twitter for this one.

Interesting story: one of the groups experiencing the fastest rates of growth in STD infections? The elderly. No kidding.

Hell, yea, Viagra (bad joke, many older folks still have plenty of healthy sexuality left in them).

From the Salon.com article:

Bob's family was horrified at the idea that his relationship with Dorothy might have become sexual. At his age, they wouldn't have thought it possible. But when Bob's son walked in and saw his dad's 82-year-old girlfriend performing oral sex on his 95-year-old father last December, incredulity turned into full-blown panic. "I didn't know where this was going to end," said the manager of the assisted-living facility where Bob and Dorothy lived. "It was pretty volatile."

Because both Bob and Dorothy suffer from dementia, the son assumed that his father didn't fully understand what was going on. And his sputtering cell phone call reporting the scene he'd happened upon would have been funny, the manager said, if the consequences hadn't been so serious. "He was going, 'She had her mouth on my dad's penis! And it's not even clean!' " Bob's son became determined to keep the two apart and asked the facility's staff to ensure that they were never left alone together.

After that, Dorothy stopped eating. She lost 21 pounds, was treated for depression, and was hospitalized for dehydration. When Bob was finally moved out of the facility in January, she sat in the window for weeks waiting for him. She doesn't do that anymore, though: "Her Alzheimer's is protecting her at this point," says her doctor, who thinks the loss might have killed her if its memory hadn't faded so mercifully fast.

But should someone have protected the couple's right to privacy—their right to have a sex life?

"We were in uncharted territory," the facility manager said—and there's a reason for that. Even the More magazine-reading demographic that thinks midlife is forever (and is deeply sorry to see James Naughton doing Cialis ads) seems to believe that while sex isn't only for the young, exceptions are only for the exfoliated. We're squeamish about the sex lives of the elderly—and even more so when those elderly are senile and are our parents. But as the baby boom generation ages, there are going to be many more Dorothys and Bobs—who may no longer quite recall the Summer of Love but are unlikely to accept parietal rules in the nursing home. Gerontologists highly recommend sex for the elderly because it improves mood and even overall physical function, but the legal issues are enormously complicated, as Daniel Engber explored in his 2007 article "Naughty Nursing Homes": Can someone with dementia give informed consent? How do caregivers balance safety and privacy concerns? When families object to a demented person being sexually active, are nursing homes responsible for chaperoning? This one botched love affair shows the incredible intensity and human cost of an issue that, as Dorothy's doctor says, we can't afford to go on ignoring.

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