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Exemplar Health Care introduces training about intimacy and sexuality in care homes

The issue of sex and sexuality in care homes is something that’s rarely discussed, even within care home settings. But determined to make a difference and bring greater empowerment to their residents, Exemplar Health Care decided to lead a change.

In this blog, Julie Booth, head of quality at Exemplar Health Care, talks about introducing a new training programme for nurses and healthcare assistants, to tackle what has long been widely considered a ‘taboo’ subject.

We are all sexual beings – we all want to be loved and we all crave intimacy at times. And that shouldn’t be any different for people who live in care homes.

However, sex and sexuality is something that is rarely discussed in health and social care settings.

Earlier this year, we rolled out training, designed by national charity, Enhance the UK, across our 3,000-strong team and 36 care homes.

The training aims to empower and enable colleagues to discuss, with confidence, such topics with the people who live in our care homes, and be fully aware of what is safe and legal.

Promoting choice

At Exemplar Health Care, life is all about choice.

We want to encourage and support people to feel comfortable and confident expressing their sexuality and sexual needs as they wish, and in seeking and exploring relationships of all kinds, in a way that promotes their choice and dignity, and ensures their safety.

And it isn’t just about sexual relationships, it’s also about platonic relationships.

We all have friends and people that we like to be with and interact with, and we want to give the people who live in our homes the same opportunities.

Research with Leeds University

The project traces its roots back to 2019, when we worked with Leeds University to research the topic.

We were looking overall at our service user’s needs, and realised we weren’t addressing some things as much as we should, and thought there may be some unmet needs.

We didn’t feel we could complete such impartial research, so asked the university to look at this for us.

The research study’s remit was to understand the extent to which people’s needs were being met around personal relationships, intimacy and sexual expression.

The results suggested that many people who live in care homes thought that they weren’t allowed personal relationships, and highlighted how much people want a friend who was there through choice rather than because it was their job.

The extent of low self-esteem as a result of disability was laid bare, with one participant asking: “Why would anyone want to be with me?”

Some of the comments were really poignant and it was quite clear they felt they were missing out on some aspects of life.

Training for nurses and healthcare assistants

We wanted to help give people the confidence to explore these topics and talk about their feelings and needs.

We commissioned Enhance the UK to consult on a project to drive culture change, which included developing policy, designing training and producing resources for the company.

Earlier this year, we started implementing training across the group in a ‘train the trainer’ approach, and it’s already proving positive.

We know that some people find these conversations uncomfortable and difficult, which is why we have a team of clinical experts who are committed to supporting the programme and ensuring that we make real change for the people we support.

The whole idea is to start conversations and change people’s thinking around friendships, sexuality and disability.

We complete a feedback form at the end of each session, looking at what they had in mind at the start and did their opinions change. A lot of people admit they thought it would be about sex and nothing else, but there is so much more to this than sex.

For some residents it will be about sex, for others it is feeling attractive, and making friends and acquaintances.

We’re already seeing that people are thinking a lot more about the subject. There is a lot of misinformation about the law for example, what people can do legally and what are the boundaries, so we’re helping with that awareness too, as well as the mindset. 

We hope to embed this culture across the whole operation, in our recruitment, induction and supervision process.

About Exemplar Health Care

Exemplar Health Care is a leading provider of specialist nursing care for adults living with complex needs.

We have 36, and growing, nurse-led homes across England. If you’re looking for a complex care placement, or for an exciting change in your nursing career, visit Exemplar Health Care’s website:

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