Off the Shelf: John Portmann

John Portmann, associate professor of religious studies, “The Ethics of Sex and Alzheimer’s.” Routledge Publishers.

In his new book out in June, Portmann analyzes how Alzheimer’s disease is changing the way people think about love and marriage. His book, “The Ethics of Sex and Alzheimer’s,” brings to light the moral dilemma for those whose spouses have the progressive, debilitating disease.

From the publisher’s description:

“A growing epidemic, Alzheimer’s punishes not only its victims but also those married to them. This book analyzes how Alzheimer’s is quietly transforming the way people think about love today. Without meaning to become rebels, many people who find themselves ‘married to Alzheimer’s’ are challenging the predominant notion of a conventional marriage.

“By falling in love again before their ill spouse dies, those married to Alzheimer’s come into conflict with central values of Western civilization – on personal, sexual, familial, religious and political levels. Those who wait sadly for a spouse’s death must sometimes wonder if the show of fidelity is necessary and whom it helps.

“Most books on Alzheimer’s focus on those who have it, as opposed to those who care for someone with it. This book offers a powerful and searching meditation on the extent to which someone married to Alzheimer’s should be expected to suffer loneliness. Should the diagnosis of dementia amount to a prohibition of sexual activity for both spouses? Portmann encourages readers to risk honesty in assessing the moral dilemma, using high-profile cases such as Nancy Reagan and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to illustrate the enormity of the problem.”

In his review, Richard W. McCarty of Mercyhurst University said,Reading this book will not only help the reader to engage sexual ethics at important religious and social levels, it will prepare the reader to confront the possibility of having to navigate a life after the interruption of Alzheimer’s. This book is a ‘must read’ for a broad range of scholars in religion and ethics, their students, clergy, medical care givers and most importantly: partners and spouses.”

Portmann is also the author of “A History of Sin” (2007), “Sex and Heaven” (2003) and “When Bad Things Happen to Other People” (2000).

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Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications