Written by: Emily Cichonski
March 9, 2016
Sex among older adults is a taboo subject. After five years as a gerontology major, I can count on one hand how many times sex and older adults have been addressed during my academic career. In fact, the times that sex and older adults have been addressed, the conversation usually shifted towards the direction that older adults have issues having sex. Outside of school, sex and aging is a subject most people would not even think to address.
In the month of January at the Gilbrea Centre Speaker Series, I was fortunate enough to hear Laura Tamblyn-Watts speak about sexual consent in dementia. Laura made a notable point that sexual consent among younger generations is very prominent in our society today, yet we fail to address the issue of sexual consent among older generations, especially those with dementia. It was a rather interesting talk, especially since I have personally never thought about this being an issue. Laura did an exceptional job of providing a brief summary of the law, and how the law pertaining to issues of sexual consent and dementia is very limited.
Overall, I have two take-home points from the talk. First of all, in order to address the issue of sexual consent and dementia, we need to be comfortable talking about older adults having sex. Older adults do have sex, however ‘sex’ is a term that is used rather loosely, since it encompasses different forms of sexual interactions, beyond traditional penile-vaginal penetration. Laura noted that sex could mean holding hands, touching, and so forth. If we want sexual consent and dementia to become a forefront issue in society, like sexual consent and younger generations is, society needs to be comfortable with the fact that (a) older adults do engage in some sort of sexual interaction and (b) we should not be so afraid to talk about it.
My second and final take home point is how will we address the issue of sexual consent and dementia? Well, there is no conclusion. After listening to Laura discuss the issue and talk about how difficult it is to address, she left us with a cliff hanger, that currently, there is no solution. It is much easier to persecute a perpetrator who is a care worker or family member that is inappropriately touching an older adult with dementia. However, how would we determine if sexual consent was given in a case between a husband and his wife with dementia? To determine if appropriate sexual consent was given from a person with limited mental capability is very difficult. So the question for gerontologists is where do we go from here? For one, a good start may be generating more discussion on sex among older adults rather than ignoring the topic altogether.
Emily Cichonski is a Master’s student studying health & aging at McMaster University. Her research interests pertain to complementary and alternative medicine, women’s health, and health care services and delivery.