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Intimacy for older adults in long-term care: a need, a right, a privilege—or a kind of care?
  1. Vanessa Schouten1,
  2. Mark Henrickson2,
  3. Catherine M Cook3,
  4. Sandra McDonald4,
  5. Nilo Atefi2
  1. 1 School of Humanities, Media and Communication, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
  2. 2 School of Social Work, Massey University-Albany Campus, Auckland, New Zealand
  3. 3 School of Clinical Sciences, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand
  4. 4 Ngāti Whātua and Ngāti Wai, Kaipara, New Zealand
  1. Correspondence to Dr Vanessa Schouten, School of Humanities, Media and Communication, Massey University, Palmerston North 4474, New Zealand; v.schouten{at}


Background To investigate attitudes of staff, residents and family members in long-term care towards sex and intimacy among older adults, specifically the extent to which they conceptualise sex and intimacy as a need, a right, a privilege or as a component of overall well-being.

Methods The present study was a part of a two-arm mixed-methods cross-sectional study using a concurrent triangulation design. A validated survey tool was developed; 433 staff surveys were collected from 35 facilities across the country. Interviews were conducted with 75 staff, residents and family members.

Results It was common for staff, residents and family members to talk about intimacy and sexuality in terms of rights and needs. As well as using the language of needs and rights, it was common for participants to use terms related to well-being, such as fun, happiness or being miserable. One participant in particular (a staff member) described receiving intimate touch as a ‘kind of care’—a particularly useful way of framing the conversation.

Conclusion While staff, residents and family frequently used the familiar language of needs and rights to discuss access to intimate touch, they also used the language of well-being and care. Reframing the conversation in this way serves a useful purpose: it shifts the focus from simply meeting minimum obligations to a salutogenic approach—one that focuses on caring for the whole person in order to improve overall well-being and quality of life.

  • sexuality/gender
  • aged
  • rights
  • ethics

Data availability statement

No data are available.

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Data availability statement

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  • Contributors All authors made substantial contributions to the design of the study, data collection and subsequent analysis. VS was primarily responsible for the drafting of this article, with suggestions and revisions from the other named authors. All authors gave final approval.

  • Funding Funding for this study was provided by a 3-year Royal Society Te Apārangi Marsden Fund/Te Pūtea Rangahau, grant number MAU 1723.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.

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