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“Older adults’ sexuality must be noticed and prioritised” – new book highlights an invisible issue in social care and healthcare

A new book focusing on older adults’ sexuality and sexual health is now available in Swedish. The lack of knowledge in this field risks becoming a health problem, according to researcher Linn Sandberg and sexologist Suzann Larsdotter, the book’s editors.

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“This is an issue that must be highlighted and prioritised now. Older people not being regarded as sexual can have a huge negative impact on their health and general wellbeing. They must also be able to search for information, get help, start relationships and find pleasure alone or with others, without being met by negative attitudes or being made invisible. This has to apply regardless of who you are,” says Linn Sandberg, associate professor in Gender Studies.

First of its kind

The book, Äldres sexualitet – hälsa, rättigheter och njutning (Older adults’ sexuality – health, rights and pleasure) is the first of its kind, and gathers research, knowledge and clinical experience regarding older adults’ sexuality. It covers issues such as how physical ageing affects sexuality, what life is like as an older LGBT+ person, what would improve older transgender people’s sexual health, and how dementia affects sexuality. The anthology is intended for students studying healthcare or social care courses or programmes, as well as continuing professional development for people who work with older adults. Older adults may also find the book an interesting read. There is advice about how employees and managers can approach policies and guidelines, tips for sex aids and how health conditions can impact sexual activity.

Care staff lack the right tools

Linn Sandberg and Suzann Larsdotter have both experienced how staff in healthcare and social care often lack the tools necessary for dealing with issues and situations linked to older adults’ sexual health.

“The staff we interview highlight how sexuality and sexual health were not discussed during their education. They also lack guidelines for how to talk about this with older adults. When the subject is discussed among colleagues, it is often because a problem has arisen. Aspects relating to pleasure and positivity are not given any space, instead there is more focus on how to deal with sexual harassment or unwanted attention,” explains Sandberg, and continues, “There is an idea that this is not a relevant issue. Staff don’t want to embarrass the person, so they don’t ask these questions. There’s a risk it will become a health problem,” she says.

Sexual health is a political issue

For Linn Sandberg and Suzann Larsdotter, older adults’ sexual health is a political issue.

“We have to start talking about sexuality as a rights issue for older people, as sexual rights are included in human rights, so everyone – regardless of age – has the right to decide over their own body and sexuality. Healthcare and social care staff need continuing education, these issues have to be included in basic training and older people’s sexual health must be regarded as a component in public health. However, there is also a need for better working conditions in care of the elderly, as staff need to have the time and the opportunity to cover sexual issues in their work. Time is also needed to build trusting relationships in order to talk about these issues with patients and clients,” say Sandberg and Larsdotter.

The anthology was released at the Senior Fair in Stockholm, 4-6 October. A free download is available from Södertörn University's publication series, External link. and is also available from internet bookshops.

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