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When privacy matters

March 9, 2015
by Kathleen Mears
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One day a nurse and Ernie* (resident) were talking loudly outside my room. Ernie must have refused his medicine because the nurse said if he did not take it, he could not go out for a smoke. Then, she asked Ernie why he was so upset. He told her he had been masturbating in the bathroom with the doors locked (two semi-private rooms share a bathroom), when the nurse knocked and asked him to unlock the door. Frustrated and angry, Ernie took it out on the nurse.

Ernie told the nurse he knew he should not be self-pleasuring. The nurse told him it was okay; it is a human need. She did not think that she was interrupting his privacy when she had him unlock the bathroom door. Her only concern was about access and safety in the bathroom.

Ernie and the nurse talked for several minutes. He said the nurse manager had requested he relegate sexual expression to the privacy of his room. 

When that nurse brought my meds in, I told her that I heard her conversation with Ernie. We both understood his frustration because there is no private place for uninterrupted sexual expression.

I came across a physician's website where readers could submit questions. A woman wrote that staff at her 87-year-old brother's nursing home complained he was openly masturbating. She said her brother had dementia and asked what she could do. The physician suggested she tell her brother to take a cold shower when he feels the urge to masturbate.

Even though nursing home management and staff know that some residents are still sexually active, and are supposedly allowed the right of sexual expression, it is a difficult subject. Aides are usually embarrassed when they encounter sexual situations, and usually laugh to break the tension.

Since it is almost impossible to control resident behavior, sexual expression is a difficult issue to resolve.



Kathleen Mears

Kathleen Mears has been a nursing home resident in Ohio for 20 years. She is an incomplete...