“Sexuality in itself does not stop until death”

Taboo topic "sexuality in old age? © Patrick Pleul

In movies, in series, on the Internet: Nowadays, it's a matter of course that the nakedness is everywhere. But sexuality in old age is still a taboo subject. Wrongly, says Helene Maqua, responsible for geriatric care at the Diocesan Caritas Association.

Interviewer: One could almost get the idea that sexuality no longer occurs in seniors. What is there?

Helene Maqua (Head of the Department of Care for the Elderly at the Diocesan Caritas Association for the Archdiocese of Cologne):Although we live in really enlightened times, this taboo persists quite stubbornly that sex no longer plays any role at all in old age. We are still living in the times of the last century, that at some point in an old age the need ceases, especially when people are also in need of care. There is certainly a bit to it that with increasing age also desire and longing decrease. But, sexuality in itself does not stop until death.

Interviewer: Of course, it can also be unpleasant for both sides in a home for the elderly when caregivers barge into a room where affection is being exchanged, or when a woman is in the middle of an act of sexual intercourse?!

Maqua: Yes, that can be uncomfortable for both sides. But for that there are also the possibilities in the facilities to lock the rooms or also to talk to the staff: Here please just do not disturb. Why not?

Interviewer: When talking about this topic, one should not forget that sexualized violence can also occur in retirement homes. How are caregivers specifically sensitized to this?

Maqua: Here in the Archdiocese of Cologne, we have greatly expanded prevention to protect adult charges against sexual abuse. We have all developed an institutional protection concept in the facilities and services, also in the outpatient services. The staff is trained and in these trainings we emphasize to show that the human being with his needs and his wishes is in the center, but also to see where the wishes really end and where the will of another person begins.

This can also be the case with residents among themselves, for example, that a resident suffering from dementia always goes into a room of another resident who does not want that at all. Of course, the staff must also intervene. It must also intervene when it comes to not quite open but latent sexualized violence in speech. This can also happen with relatives or people who otherwise come to a facility. Without making a big deal out of all this, one should react very sensitively.

Interviewer: You hinted at it: Older people also have needs. Sexuality is also healthy. Nevertheless, it is still a taboo. Why?

Maqua: It is a taboo because society tends to be shaped by youth, and sexuality is equated with youth, procreative ability and having children. But sexuality also goes beyond that. It also means intimacy, it means that partners trust each other. And that is just as given in old age.

Interviewer: What would you like to see. What has to change in dealing with sexuality in old age??

Maqua: I think we need a much greater serenity, especially in the institutions. That people pay a little more attention to that: Who still has what needs??

The interview was conducted by Aurelia Rutters.

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