Sustaining an intimate and sexually fulfilled marriage or partnership in older adulthood with a disability: Perspectives of social workers

Kristen F. Linton, Lela Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The American portrayal of sex is often left for only the young, attractive, and able-bodied. In contrast many studies have found that older adults with disabilities in marriages and intimate partnerships have sexual desire and sexually active lives. Social workers are often burdened with balancing the sexual intimacy desires of their older adult clients with disabilities, alongside the need to protect them from sexual abuse and exploitation, particularly among those who may lack the capacity to consent due to cognitive impairment. This phenomenological study aimed to understand the lived professional experience of social workers (N = 5) in supporting married and intimately partnered couples in which at least one person was an older adult with a disability to understand the clients’ needs and common social work practice methods used to address their needs. Inductive coding was used to identify themes and subthemes. Their role included helping their clients to learn about their ability to have sex, consenting to sex, negotiating accommodations for intimacy and sex with their spouses, and counseling those who took on caregiver roles for their spouses. Social workers reported that individual diagnosis, such as dementia, should not alone determine one’s ability to consent to sex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2019



  • disability
  • intimacy
  • intimate partner
  • marriage
  • Older adult
  • sexual health
  • sexuality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)

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