Caring for sexual rights

Alana James reports from the Society's Annual Conference.

My father works in a care home and says that it involves caring for every aspect of human life; basic bodily functions, complex physical and mental conditions, and social and emotional needs. It is the former two which we tend to associate with care homes, yet the latter may be hardest to support.

John Williams (Aberystwyth University) explored issues of ageing and sexuality from a legal and human rights perspective, noting that older adults are typically absent from human rights dialogue. Stereotypical views paint older people as either asexual or hypersexual, and it is often assumed that care home staff should prevent intimate relationships between residents. Yet we know that social relationships are an important part of psychological well-being. The need to promote well-being is in fact part of the Care Act 2014 covering England and Wales - incorporating domestic, family, and personal relationships. Further the right to a private life, including sexual relationships, is included within the Articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. Care home residents therefore, like other adults, have the right to enjoy the benefits afforded by personal relationships.

Of course respecting this right whilst safeguarding vulnerable clients is complex. Key challenges outlined by Williams include whether there is the capacity to consent and whether there is consent for all involved – as otherwise some behaviours could be criminal. The views of relatives and friends should be respected – yet these could be in opposition to the wishes of their loved ones. Perhaps most crucial is to recognise that there is a broad spectrum of intimacy, from something as simple as holding hands through to deep emotional and/or sexual relationships, and intimacy should not be assumed to be wrong per se. 

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