Talking about sex

It’s important! Researchers need five to ten minutes of your time to hear how residential aged care providers are dealing with sex and sexuality.

By Keryn Curtis

Above: Linda McAuliffe, ACEBAC researcher on “Sexual Health and Sexual needs in Residential Aged Care”

Regardless of your own personal views and comfort levels, sex and sexuality is becoming an unavoidable conversation point for providers of aged care services.  How residential care providers currently address issues around sexual needs, sexuality and sexual health is the subject of a national study being undertaken by researchers at the Australian Centre for Evidence Based Aged Care (ACEBAC), a research centre of La Trobe University in Melbourne.

ACEBAC Research officer, Linda McAuliffe, says a short survey was sent to every Australian residential aged care facility – to the Director of Nursing or the Nurse Unit Manager – about two weeks ago. 

“Essentially we want to know, does your facility gather information about residents’ sexual health, their sexual needs and intimacy needs?  And things like disruptive sexual behaviour?

“And how does the facility gather this information?  Some include it as part of their admission process now; some have included it in the admission forms,” says McAuliffe.

“We’re also interested in how many facilities have a written policy on sexuality, sexual health and sexual behaviour and what education, if any, is provided to staff in implementing the policy.

“Often the issue of sexuality and assessment only comes up in the context of problematic sexual behaviour.  Our understanding is that there are not a lot of written policies about this topic or training and education about it at the moment,” she said.

McAuliffe says so far the response has been good but they will be sending a reminder letter in two weeks time.  She says they are hoping to get a strong response that can go on to inform a larger project whose purpose will be to develop a tool kit of training materials for aged care.

“The tool kit would include elements like assessment forms, sample policies and guidelines and training resources. One of the problems at the moment is that staff don’t have a framework to consult when they are considering this area,” she said..

McAuliffe and co-researchers, Dr Michael Bauer and Dr Deirdre Fetherstonhaugh, expect to have results from their study, “Sexual Health and Sexual needs in Residential Aged Care” later this year. Using these results, they will apply for grant funding to develop the next phase.

McAuliffe believes this issue is going to be increasing important in coming years.

“It’s not just an issue for LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and intersex] groups – at the moment everyone is being overlooked!  

“Doing the literature review I was surprised at the gaps. It seems fairly obvious – if you’re not assessing for a person’s sexual needs and health in the first place then it could be a violation of people’s rights,” she said.

For further information please contact researcher Linda McAuliffe on 03 9479 6006 or at

What the PC says:

In the chapter on Catering for Diversity, the Productivity Commission Inquiry Report says:

“Initiatives that increase the awareness of GLBTI [gay, lesbian, bisexual, tansexual and intersex] issues within the aged care industry, such as training for aged care workers, are important in creating an environment in which sexual diversity is respected and catered for. There should be further initiatives between DoHA and peak bodies to help create an aged care system that can better cater for and respond to the needs and preferences of GLBTI older people. Service providers have an obligation to ensure both policies and practices acknowledge these needs and respond appropriately.  Productivity Commission Inquiry Report, Vol 2. Chapter 11, p255


The Australian Government should ensure the accreditation standards for residential and community care are sufficient and robust enough to deliver services which cater to the needs and rights of people from diverse backgrounds including culturally and linguistically diverse, Indigenous and sexually diverse communities.

Tags: allied-health, helping-hand, helping-hand-aged-care, mark-butler, nurse, nursing, south-australia,

2 thoughts on “Talking about sex

  1. As a nurse educator, and ex-ACF manager, it is quite evident that sexuality in ageing is often a taboo and undervalued subject. Many ‘sexually overt’ behaviours are deemed as ‘inappropriate’- regardless of the cognitive and/or psychological status of an aged care resident.

    Perhaps these ‘behaviours’ are, in some cases, people expressing a basic human need for intimacy and sexual gratification?! (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs comes to mind)

    It is often the personal values of the nurses/carers that are projected into these situations. Many nurses/carers are uncomfortable and ill-prepared to deal with these subjects.

    The Aged Care sector will see a huge shift in the sexuality needs of residents in the next 20 years, I believe. The baby boomer generation is now in their 70’s, and predominantly have a more open, and less conservative view towards sexuality.

    Also, Australia- with it’s ever increasing diverse range of cultures and relgions- will be faced with adapting and catering to the sexuality needs of a wider variety of elderly people in both the Aged and Disability sectors.

    It will be interesting to see where any new policies in regards to sexuality needs of residents will lead the Aged care sector in the future.

  2. Most of our residents are in the older age group who don’t talk about sex.However,we are getting younger residents who openly talk about fancying a staff member or openly ogling staff members behinds!
    The staff are happy to talk to these residents- no-one is brain dead!There is not a great song and dance made of it;just acceptance of their feelings.
    How hard is that?

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