Sex and intimacy in care homes

A person living in a residential, nursing or shared home may want to continue to have sexual relationships and be intimate. Find out how to support a person with dementia who is in a relationship, including a list of questions to think about and discuss with the care home staff. 

Can a person living in a care home have a sexual relationship?

Living in a residential, nursing or shared home does not mean people cannot continue to have sexual relationships and be intimate, if they want.

If your partner is living in residential care, talk to the manager or key worker about your need for private time with your partner. You can discuss how that can be made available to you, and ask what training is available to staff about relationships, sexuality and sexual health.

What questions should we ask the care home?

  • Does the home have a sexuality policy?
  • What is the home’s view on consent and capacity? Do they monitor mental capacity in residents who are sexually active?
  • Does the home provide any advice, information or support for the residents about sex?
  • How do they ensure the safety of their residents in terms of sexual activity?
  • What is their safeguarding procedure?
  • What might happen if a resident shows affection or sexual feelings towards another resident or staff member?
  • What steps does the home take to ensure privacy and respect for the people involved?
  • If you are in a same-sex relationship, will your wishes for privacy be treated with equal respect to those in a heterosexual relationship?

Ask to see the home’s equal opportunities policy. Every home should also have an anti-discrimination policy and you can ask for evidence that it has been put into practice. It is important that every resident feels able to express their sexuality.

It may be difficult for staff to make sure residents have the privacy they need with their relationships as well as making sure that they are properly cared for and looked after. For example, a person may need assistance washing and bathing after sex. Staff should always respect the confidentiality of relationships.

For more information see our booklet, Care homes – when is the right time and who decides?

New relationships in a care home

People with dementia who live in residential care may form new sexual relationships with other care home residents.

Between consenting adults, relationships can provide joy, comfort and partnership for people with dementia. The care home staff should respect this. The care home staff have a duty to ensure that both partners have capacity and are both willingly consenting to any sexual relationship.

Family members, including children, may feel uncomfortable recognising that the person with dementia still has sexual needs. They may also find it difficult to accept the situation if they feel that the person is ‘replacing’ a partner. However, if the person has capacity, wants to pursue the relationship and is not at any risk of harm, family and friends should try not to intervene.

What if my partner meets someone new in their care home?

Sometimes a person forms a relationship in a care home when they already have a partner outside the home. These situations can be very distressing, and should always be handled sensitively and with consideration and respect for everyone involved.

Sometimes these relationships happen because the person misses the affection they had with their partner at home. Other times this can be a case of mistaken identity, where a person believes that another resident is their current partner.

It can be difficult to know how to approach this situation if it happens. Everybody and every situation will be different so any decisions should be made based on the person’s individual circumstances.

Is the person with dementia being taken advantage of?

If a person does have a new relationship while in residential care, there may be concerns that the person is being exploited or taken advantage of. As long as the person with dementia has the mental capacity to make decisions about this relationship (see ‘Dementia and consenting to sex and intimacy') and wants to pursue the relationship, then this relationship should be respected.

However, if there is a concern about a person’s welfare or safety, it is important that this is reported to the care home, to a health or social care professional or, if necessary, to the police.

What if I no longer want a relationship with my partner?

There may come a time when you no longer see the person with dementia as your partner. For example, your relationship may have changed and you may have needs that your partner no longer fulfils.

You may feel guilty for ending the relationship with your partner, or for starting a new relationship. It is important to remember that everyone’s circumstances are unique and there is no single ‘right’ way to deal with the situation.