Friendship, intimacy and sexual expression

Friendship is usually seen as the relationship between two or more people; it is a meaningful connection that usually involves a desire to spend time together, reciprocity, trust, and intimacy 12 and the establishment of friendships between people in residential aged care has been found to assist during the transition period 3 and positively support wellbeing.


There are a lot of myths and stereotypes regarding older people and sexuality with a general view that sexual need declines with age 4 despite research clearly evidencing that a decline is sexual activity is not an inevitable sequel of ageing 5. Moreover, sexuality is not limited to intercourse and includes the desire for the physical intimacy associated with touching, cuddling, closeness, kissing and fondling.


Staff responses to the behaviour of residents can have a profound effect and it is important staff understand and support resident’s rights. Whilst policies relating to the rights of people in residential care may differ from country to country they are generally based on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights In Australia the Australian Government has developed the Charter of Residents Rights and Responsibilities Review the charter and consider which aspects relate to a person’s freedom for sexual expression.


Whilst the ‘Charter of Residents Rights and Responsibilities’ provides broad guidelines there can be a lack of specific policy guidelines and training to enable staff to develop appropriate responses and support to meet the needs of residential aged care in relation to sexuality expression 6.





  1. De Medeiros K, Saunders P A, Doyle P J, Mosby A, Van Haitsman K. Friendships among people with dementia in long-term care. Dementia. 2012; 11(3): 363-381.
  2. Felmlee D, Muraco A. Gender and friendship norms among older adults. Research on Aging. 2009; 31: 318-344
  3. Fessman N, Lester D. Loneliness and depression among elderly nursing home patients. International Journal of Aging and Human Development. 2000; 51(2): 137-41.
  4. Heath H. Sexuality in later life. In H Heath, I White (Eds) The challenge of sexuality in health care. Oxford: Blackwell Science. 2002.
  5. Deacon S, Minichiello V, Plummer D. Sexuality and older people. Revisiting the assumptions. Educational Gerontology. 1995; 21: 497-513.
  6. Shuttleworth R, Russell C, Weerakoon P. Sexuality in residential aged care: A survey of perceptions and policies in Australian Nursing Homes. Sex Disability. 2010; 28: 187-194.
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