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Thinking about Sexuality and Stroke

Sexuality is a natural part of life for everyone including those with disabilities, but is often overlooked by health care professionals.

Having a stroke can often change your body and how you feel. Sexuality is how you feel about yourself. How you feel about yourself may affect what you are able to do.

What can you do about improving your sexuality?

  • Take time to talk to others to understand the changes you have faced due to experiencing a stroke.
  • Choose to accept yourself and have a positive body image.
  • Maintain grooming and personal hygiene to feel attractive.
  • Share any concerns you may have with your health care provider.

Stroke survivors report that sexual function, a part of sexuality, is an important concern. Following stroke, sexual intercourse may become less frequent, of shorter duration, or stop all together. This may be due to psychological and emotional issues such as: fear of recurrent stroke, anxiety about sexual failure, and depression. Sexual relations are possible even if you have a disability as a result of stroke. You should talk to your significant other and discuss your concerns about sex.

What can you do to resume sexual activity following stroke? 

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  • Your body may experience physical changes after a stroke. Allow time for you and your partner to get used to these changes.
  • Communicate with your significant other about your feelings, sexual needs, desires, and concerns.
  • Create a calm, relaxed environment where both of you will feel comfortable. You may include soft music, candles, and a warm room
  • Plan for sex to fully enjoy the experience.
  • If you have trouble talking, use touch to communicate.
  • Choose a time when you are rested and free of all stress.
  • Start by re-introducing intimate activities such as kissing, touching, and hugging.
  • Take any pain or anxiety medications prescribed by your health care provider before sexual activity.
  • Try using pillows to help support your affected side during sexual activity.
  • Choose positions where the partner who has not had the stroke is on top. You may find it easier to be side by side with your partner.
  • If you are in a side by side position, lie on your affected side in order to use your non-affected hand and arm to touch your partner

The following are websites to provide you with more information about sexuality and stroke:

Sex and Intimacy after Stroke (StrokeAssociation.org)

Sexuality in later life:
http://www.nia.nih.gov/HealthInformation/Publications/sexuality.htm

Recovery after a Stroke: Redefining Sexuality:
http://www.stroke.org/we-can-help/stroke-survivors/living-stroke/lifestyle/relationships/sex-and-sexuality


References:

American Heart Association. (2009). When stroke happens: An overview. Retrieved from http://www.americanheart.org

Hoeman, S. (2008). Rehabilitation nursing (4th ed.) St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Science.

Jacelon, C. (2011). The specialty practice of rehabilitation nursing. Glenview, IL: Association of Rehabilitation Nurses.

McLaughlin, J., & Cregan, A. (2005). Sexuality in stroke care: A neglected quality of life issues in stroke rehabilitation? A pilot study. Sexuality and Disability, 23(4), 213-225.

Thompson, H. (2008). A review of the psychosocial consequences of stroke and their impact on spousal relationships. British Journal of Neuroscience Nursing, 4(4), 177-184.

Written in 2009 by Kalisha Ivey, MSN at the University of Toledo for the Caring~Web. Revised 2012.

Last Updated: 5/26/16