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Rachel Wotton. Photo: Supplied

Sex work in aged care more than just physical

Sex and intimacy are now being spoken about more in residential care, but what happens when older adults and those with disability need to access this in the form of sex work?

“People forget that we’re all getting older but that doesn’t mean our sexual desire and the need for intimacy with another human being should stop,” sex worker Rachel Wotton said.

Wotton helped set up the charitable organisation Touching Base, developed out of the need to facilitate the connection between people with disability and sex workers, focusing on topics such as access, discrimination, human rights and the attitudinal barriers that these two marginalised communities can face.

She said that those in residential or community care may find gaps in their lives where they are still sexually active and crave special companionship, and there shouldn’t be barriers to restrict something that is a mutually consenting adult activity.

Wotton spoke about a concept called ‘skin hunger’, where there is the desire for skin on skin connection.

“It’s a different sort of touch when someone like myself spends quality time with someone where we see them holistically as a full person, not just this concept where people think of penis and vagina ‘wham bam thank you mam’,” she said.

“I talk a lot about spooning. It’s about being held or someone holding you, and having the warmth of another human being – feeling their heartbeat and breathing – and sometimes it’s more about sexual touch.”

Another sex worker, Emma Arvo, said her practice today is geared almost entirely to men over the age of 60, with many being in their 70s and a number in their 80s and 90s.

“Having clients of such seniority, most are close to the end of their lives when I am called in to offer some intimacy and comfort. As such, I have experienced the loss of clients at this end stage of their lives as I would the loss of a friend,” Arvo said.

She said most people, aside from her sex worker colleagues around the world, believe that ‘elderly’ people have no desire for intimacy or touch. She added she dislikes the word ‘elderly’ as it is a stigmatising term that separates a person of senior years from any notion that they might still have a need for intimacy.

The response from families to a loved one’s visit from a sex worker can vary. While many are thankful, Arvo recalled situations where family members can get too involved in the process.

“In one instance, the quite mature son of a seriously mature gentleman attempted to tell me what kind of sex he believed his father would like. I told him that was way too much information and I was capable of deducing his dad’s intimate needs myself,” she said.

“On one occasion, the daughter of a potential new client suggested I should go easy and maybe limit what I did – again, I advised that I would be guided by her dad’s interests and capacity.”

Wotton and Arvo agree that sexual expression should be part of the holistic approach to the wellbeing of people in aged care, particularly for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Arvo said nursing home staff should provide support by outlining a resident’s needs, such as issues around their mobility and cognitive capacity.

“[Sexual freedom] should be a life affirming part of caring for seniors,” Arvo said. “Feedback from nursing home staff that I have spoken with affirms my belief that such intimate experiences provide a calming and centred influence.”

Wotton said organisations should have clear policies and procedures in order to give transparent, professional parameters for staff about their rights and responsibilities.

“Touching Base is delighted that some organisations in the aged care sector have realised this is a gap in their policies and they want to empower their staff,” she said.

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