Sex after a stroke

"Am I Normal?": A woman whose husband is recovering from a brain hemorrhage wants to reignite their love life

Topics: Salon -- After Dark, Am I Normal?,

Sex after a stroke (Credit: Yuri Arcurs via Shutterstock)

Dear Tracy,

My husband had a stroke last summer (a brain hemorrhage) at 35 — coincidentally, I noticed something was wrong right after we had sex. He survived with some relatively minor mobility problems and some issues with aphasia (speech problems) and we’re attempting to get our lives back together after a week in the ICU, five weeks inpatient rehabilitation, and several months of outpatient rehabilitation.

I am certainly not blaming the stroke on sex (although the EMTs sure had a field day with the information!), but I am having trouble getting back into having a sex life. For so many weeks and months, I was solely in charge of everything: schedules, medication, work, food, finances — the whole deal. Being sick, particularly with neurological deficits, unfortunately tends to infantilize a person to a certain degree, and I’m having some trouble coming away from the role as Sole Adult in Charge of Everything.

In addition, since he still has little feeling and some mobility problems on his right side, sex seems more like therapy than, well, just sex (that is, I sometimes come away with bruises since he doesn’t realize he’s elbowed me in the ribs or whatever).

In short, in the past nine months I’ve had one orgasm.

What can I do to move away from the more parental role and back into the role of wife and sex partner? And how can I manage this while minimizing his overwhelming feelings of guilt (for “ruining” everything about our lives, including our sex life)?

Thanks for any advice on the matter.

Oh honey, I’m so sorry. What a thing you’ve gone through, and are continuing to go through. Most couples struggle with keeping passion alive in their relationship — and many women’s sex lives are cooled by caretaker feelings — but you’re facing these issues very early and in especially unfortunate circumstances.

What’s remarkable to me, standing here on the outside at a far remove, is that you not only have a sense of humor about what’s happened, but you’re also taking action to make sure that things improve. My guess is that, hard as it was, you did pretty damn well as the Sole Adult in Charge of Everything. I can picture you cringing at these words, but: It’s impressive. Pat yourself on the back, woman.

Luckily, I come bearing good news. There is a tremendous amount of resources out there that can help you, and I’ve rounded up a couple of experts to weigh in on your particular case.

William Finger, a clinical psychologist and president of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists, says communication about sex is the most important issue here. Of course, your husband’s speech problems complicate what is already a challenge for most couples — but communication is essential to everything from preventing him from accidentally bruising you during sex to understanding the particular challenges, fears and insecurities each other are experiencing.

Donald D. Kautz, a registered nurse and professor of nursing who has written extensively on the topic of post-stroke sex, asks whether your husband is working or has somewhere to go during the day. “The more independent he can become, including activities on his own, often helps the ‘caregiving’ partner feel less like a caregiver and both feel more like lovers,” he says. “Many couples report that getting involved in outside activities makes them feel better about themselves, which transfers over into the bedroom.” (And, might I add, that’s often true, regardless of whether a stroke is involved.)

You might want to try scheduling sex, setting aside a time removed from your caretaking routine. I know, I know, the idea of scheduling nookie is routinely viewed as sad and unsexy, but Finger says, “Nobody has spontaneous sex, except many when they first meet.”

As for the nitty-gritty of your bedroom happenings, there are several positions that should be more comfortable and hopefully prevent bruising. Sex with you on top — cowgirl, reverse cowgirl, him in a chair, whatever you please — is the most obvious option. (Again, something that’s awesome, stroke or not.) Kautz sent me a guide to positions that are ideal for those dealing with a chronic illness or disability; while they might not apply directly to you, I wish I could link to it, because the illustrations were an inspiring testament to the way sex can remain fun through injury and old age. They show an elderly couple in various convenient coital arrangements, and it seems a reflection — a NSFW reflection, sure — of lasting love. You can find another, less tear-jerky guide here.

To the issue of his lack of sensation on the right side of his body: You’ll want to focus more attention on his left side — but, duh, you probably already figured that. Optimistically speaking, this does force you guys to slow down and discover anew which sensations feel best — and not just for him. The issue of your own pleasure is crucial here too. Kautz recommends asking for “more direct genital stimulation, through touch, cunnilingus, or a vibrator.” (Again, advice worthy of all women.) He adds, “Making sure that she has an orgasm first may make sex seem less like therapy — and much closer to what intimacy was like before he had the stroke.” (At least we can hope that’s what it was like!)

Finally, I know this is annoying advice, but you should check out both online and local resources for stroke survivors. Kautz points out that you might not have much in common with those who show up to a nearby “stroke club” meeting, seeing as most could be your grandparents, but the medical professionals who run the thing should be a great connection. There are countless respectable online resources about sex after a stroke — try this comprehensive guide, for starters — that cover far more ground than I can in this column.

Good luck to you both, and have fun.

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>