Sex in aged-care facilities made headlines in the West Australian Newspaper this week. Well, not exactly, but the headline grabbed my attention.

 Under the banner, ‘”Silver Fox” study in aged-care homes’, a journalist reported that a psychology student has chosen this as the focus of her Honours Thesis. There’s a whole lot wrong with the article, and I expect there will also be with the study if it continues along the lines reported

What’s wrong with the article?

I’ve obviously been reading all the wrong things, listening to the wrong conversations, because ‘silver fox’ made sense only in the context of the article. The term was new to me. The Urban Dictionary defines a silver fox as

An attractive older man. Generally, with gray (sic) hair and is often desired by younger women.

Later, I read that these men often attract younger women who chase them. I also discovered that there is no equivalent slang for an attractive older women, and perhaps that’s a good thing.  But in this ageist society, perish the thought that an older woman could be sexually attractive!

The journalist writes about the ‘taboo subject’ of the study, rather than reporting objectively.  Is it taboo because it is about frailer older people? Or because of sex? Or does the journalist somehow think that old people and sex shouldn’t occur in the same sentence?

This is both sexist and ageist. I’ve written blogs about this before, including here and here.

The term ‘aged care facilities’ replaced the old ‘nursing homes’ terminology with the passage of the Aged Care Act 1997.  Anyone who talks about one of these facilities as a ‘home’ probably hasn’t visited one recently.

The study of sex in aged-care facilities

According to the report, the student hopes to recruit carers in aged care facilities ‘…to discuss the difficulties they encounter when dealing with residents’ sexual behaviours… because in nursing homes there is (sic) not a lot of resources or knowledge about sexual behaviours.’

In this way, she hopes to ‘gain an understanding of sexual behaviours and sexual patterns within aged-care facilities.’

To discuss other people’s behaviour with third parties, in this case, carers, seems both insensitive and disrespectful of the older men and women requiring care.

Perhaps a better way to gain an understanding about any behaviour would be to consult with the people concerned. In this case, they would be the residents themselves. They are the consumers of the aged care services and it is their behaviour which is being studied.

As a social scientist with considerable research experience, as well as many years’ involvement as an aged-care nurse and later professional advocate, I’m gob-smacked!

I can only wish this ambitious young woman the best of luck with her study of a topic which one would think demands considerably more than an honours thesis to do it justice.

16 replies on “Sex in aged-care facilities study”

    1. Thanks, Lorraine. I feel quite passionate about how old people, particularly frail older people in aged care facilities are treated. Ageism is my new war cry!

    1. Hello, Deb. Thank you for your comment. I’ve not heard that term for attractive older women who are interested in younger men. Yuck!

        1. Oh, dear! How demeaning of old people! Calling out ageism seems to be my new career!

  1. This is actually a really offensive way to go about studying older people’s sexuality, if the reporting is true. To ‘ask the carers’ about the residents ‘behaviour’ is treating them like animals in a zoo. AWFUL.

    1. Thanks for the support, Fiona. Yes, it is disgusting. And the fact that WAN published such tacky stuff is also an affront to human dignity.

  2. This is an outrage. I am as confronted as you are about the tack taken by the naive student and wonder at the supervisor’s ignorance.
    NOT ABOUT ME WITHOUT ME is immediately what I want to say to the student; and remind her supervisor and the author of the article about respect for older people!
    Please write some more about the importance of human contact, relationships, personal autonomy and the importance of all people exploring their sexuality if they choose – whatever their age!!!

    1. Hi, Jenny. Thanks for your comment and support. I’ve become increasingly aware of ageism in the media recently, and feel as if I’m on a bit of a campaign to make explicit the importance of dignity at any age. I feel a few blog posts coming up, especially as you suggest, about the importance of human contact and all the things implied by that, for people of any age, and particularly for older, perhaps more frail, men and women.
      I’m also interested in the way the media deals with this topic. I wrote to the editor of WAN, not for publication, putting my view of the article I quoted in the post. I got a curt letter in return, stating that the article simply reported the research. The email continued, ‘We haven’t breached anyone’s privacy, nor been disrespectful.’ PLEASE!!!


  3. I don’t really see any point to the study, and why would she want to anyway? Perhaps the student has been watching too many re-plays of Golden Girls! Each episode seemed to focus on one or other of the characters having a new man.

    Definitely an invasion of privacy and if the management allows the study to take place without express permission from the residents they have surely breached their duty of care!

    1. That’s an important argument, Sue, that there seems to be little point to such a study. It certainly would be an invasion of the residents’ privacy. According to the newspaper report, the student doesn’t even plan to talk to the residents, but to their carers, about them! That is appalling, as I know you agree. I think the university should take responsibility for their students and supervisors, and the management for the residents in their care.

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