UK’s first ever Sexual Rights Charter launched to tackle aged based discrimination

The UK’s first ever Sexual Rights Charter designed to help tackle discrimination older adults face regarding sex and relationships, has been launched by researchers at the Healthy Lifespan Institute at the University of Sheffield.

Illustration of two people holding hands
Illustration of two people holding hands. Copyright Dizzy Lou.
  • Older adults are less likely to report sexual assault and may feel pressure to hide their gender identity or sexual orientation because of fear of prejudice
  • The discrimination can take many forms, such as not having sexual issues taken seriously by medical professionals, being excluded from information campaigns about sexual health, or being prevented from forming intimate relationships in care homes
  • Intimacy is important to the overall health and wellbeing of older adults, however many experience barriers to talking about such issues with their partners, friends and health professionals

The Charter, which is part of a wider campaign to help end the stigma surrounding the sex lives of older adults and to help improve sexual health and wellbeing, is being launched today (24 March 2022) by the University of Sheffield and Age-friendly Sheffield.

Having intimate and sexual relationships is a normal part of life and an integral part of health and well-being. However, older adults are more likely to face discrimination when it comes to sexuality.

However, researchers at the University of Sheffield are transforming the conversation around ageing and sexuality with the launch of the UK’s first Sexual Rights Charter. 

Cartoon of an older man and woman dancing. The man is wearing a turban and the woman has short white hair and glasses.

Lead researcher, Dr Sharron Hinchliff from the University of Sheffield’s Health Sciences School, said: “A third of over-70s have sex at least twice a month but they face huge barriers particularly when it comes to seeking advice about sexual health.

Sexual rights are human rights as applied to sexuality. They apply to all of us, but older adults tend to be denied these rights and often experience discrimination when it comes to their sexuality needs. 

“The Sexual Rights Charter will help service providers and practitioners to develop inclusive and non-discriminatory practices and policies. We hope the Charter will make a real difference to the lives of everyone as they age by tackling prejudice and respecting sexual agency and diversity.” 

Dr Hinchliff

Health Sciences School

The Sexual Rights Charter is a set of statements designed to help GPs, health care professionals, service providers and the community to develop inclusive practices and policies, and help ensure that people are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, whatever their age.

Sexuality is a vital part of wellness and being healthy. The Charter helps to bring the subject of sexuality and intimacy to the forefront of the conversation and gives people the confidence to raise issues that might be sensitive. 

It also encourages healthcare professionals to think more holistically about a person. I’m excited to see how the charter changes the conversation about sex and sexuality.”

Dr Rebecca Mawson

Sheffield GP

The Charter will be used in different environments, such as GPs surgeries and community spaces to raise public awareness of this sensitive and much neglected issue. The Sheffield team will also be providing support to help organisations implement the Charter. 

Vic Stirling, Programme Lead from Age-friendly Sheffield, said: “Age Better in Sheffield have been really proud to work with Dr Sharron Hinchliff for a number of years to help improve the positive representation of people aged 50 and over, including supporting Sharron’s brilliant Age of Love exhibition with artist Pete McKee. 

“The Sexual Rights Charter is another significant step in this work and we’re extremely pleased that the first ever Charter of this kind is launching in our Age-friendly Sheffield. 

“We hope it continues to lead to people having better experiences with their health, and to feeling less shame and stigma about intimacy as we age."

Designed by Dr Hinchliff, and developed with Dr Stephanie Ejegi-Memeh also from the University of Sheffield and Gilli Cliff from Age-friendly Sheffield, the Charter was created as a result of extensive consultation with the public, professionals, and organisations in Sheffield.  It was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council’s Impact Accelerator Award and Age-friendly Sheffield. The Charter is supported by a suite of materials including guidance notes, FAQs and problem statements. 

A 60-year-old female who took part in the study to help create the charter, said: “I’m pleased that the Charter includes all protected characteristics. As a middle-aged woman who’s had relationships with women and men, it’s easy to feel like you’re being judged. I hope the Charter will help put a stop to that.”

For more information about how to use the Charter, and to access all the Charter documents, visit #agesexrights

Find out why we've created a Sexual Rights Charter