Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Politics of Elder Sex

"American Gothic” by Grant Wood
Is it worth the risk of abuse that an elderly patient suffering from Alzheimer’s and/or dementia might derive pleasure from an intimate encounter with a loved one? A legal case in Iowa recently reported by the Times (“Sex, Dementia and a Husband on Trial at Age 78,” NYT, 4/13/15) seems to extend the principle of Affirmative Consent into the marital bed. As you may recall California recently passed an Affirmative Consent statute which essentially makes seduction illegal on college campuses. In an equivalent of a suspect being read his Miranda rights, a couple must stop even before they have gotten to the foreplay stage and establish whether each party is of sound enough mind to make a conscious decision. Volition would ostensibly be measured by an absence of ambivalence. The ability to make a decision would quickly relegate resistances to that dark closet of the unconscious where we pack away all our useless old toys. What a better way to throw cold water on sexuality than to deliver it from any relics of humanity or complex human emotion! In the current instance, the State of Iowa will weigh in on whether a husband may enjoy the comfort and pleasure of sexuality with his chronically ill wife, despite the fact that “experts,” according to the Times, agree that “physical intimacy can benefit dementia patients…calming agitation, easing loneliness and possibly aiding physical health.” What a charming way to usher in the last stages of life! Surely it will be the final nail in the coffin for those who fear that old age is nothing more then the famous description offered by Shakespeare’s Jaques in As You Like It,Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” The Times article begins by stating, “There is no question that Donna Lou Rayhons had severe Alzheimer’s…But another question has become the crux of an extraordinary criminal case unfolding this week in an Iowa courtroom. Was Mrs. Rayhons able to consent to sex with her husband?” The Times piece goes on to report that “Mr. Rayhons, a nine-term Republican state legislator, decided not to seek another terms after his arrest.” Daniel Reingold, chief executive of The Hebrew Home at Riverdale is quoted thusly, “Touch is one of the last pleasures we lose. So much of aging and so much of being in a long-term care facility is about loss, loss of independence, loss of friends, loss of ability to use your body. Why would we want to diminish that?” Mrs. Rayhons died in August, but from the Times quotes “a social worker at the center” as saying she “was always pleased to see Henry.” Let’s say she had lived, it’s unlikely she would have been called upon to testify. But would it have possibly helped her condition if an order of protection were issued or if, even worse, her husband were sentenced to prison and she wasn’t able to see him anymore? One wonders what Rand Paul’s opinion about this would be? Is sexuality amongst aging married couples one area where the libertarian approach of less government starts to make sense? Big Brother should not be watching the few lucky septuagenarians who have the wherewithal to get it on.

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