Apr 27, 2016

Sex and the Stroke Survivor: A Case of Futility?

I knew I had to write about it. I'd been thinking about getting something done on the laptop for over a year, but every time I sat down to write about it, I'd think about some other topic. And then the brochure came. So now's the time. This is the best I've got.
Stroke Connection magazine just published a glossy, comprehensive brochure entitled, "Living with Disability After Stroke," and I was sure that the "s" word was in it.  (All right, sex, ok?) But it wasn't. I didn't understand how they, meaning the writer, editor, somebody, could have left it out. I did some research to find the reason why.

I found out that no one took the blame for omitting the topic, but most people who have partners think about sex post-stroke, or rather the guilt in not satisfying the other half, (not necessarily the better half. Just sayin'). The most common question in my email asked by stroke survivors is, can it even be possible to have the feelings about sex like I did before the stroke.

The National Stroke Association says, "The need to love and be loved, and to have the physical and mental release sex provides, is important. But having sex after stroke can present problems or concerns for you and your partner." The article goes on to say that lubrication, incontinence, and indifference are the top three.

Hmmm. More research, I said.

Aside from "been there, done that" masturbation if you feel the need, there is the Intimate Rider. Known as the apparatus [albeit needless, at least to me] "helping couples overcome physical challenges & disabilities for years," the Intimate Rider allows partners to achieve a full range of motion without maximal effort, permitting "you and your partner to unleash your intimacy in a way that was not possible before-- the way you deserve!" Deserve? How presumptive!

To me, the Intimate Rider looks like a beach chair and an army cot at the uncool price of $365, but if buying it gets you in the mood....

Then there's the Positioning Support Strap--$16--that "alleviates some of the pressure from your back and will bring you even closer to your partner as you enjoy the IntimateRider. Simply wrap the strap around the hips of your partner as she waits for you on all fours."

Huh? A bit of sexism? Who says she wants to wait for you on all fours? Maybe he'd be on all fours.

The useful Thera-Band straps
Anyway, you could always improvise the Positioning Support Strap with a Thera-Band strap used in physical therapy, without mentioning the real reason. Make up something, like you want a Thera-Band strap to tie up your dog at night. Be brief about it, but go ahead. You can do it.

Seriously, though, sex after stroke may present insurmountable problems, like:
* inability to move into positions that are comfortable, or
* erectile dysfunction where Viagra doesn't work, or
* fatigue, common in stroke survivors, or
* "not sexy" incontinence getting in the way, or
* depression, the feeling-blue syndrome, or
* decreased libido where you're never in the mood for the time being, or
* fear of another stroke.

There are plenty more.

If you're having problems, talk to your partner, but oftentimes, that's not enough. There could be shame or guilt or neglect on the part of one partner or the other. If any one of the three surfaces, go and seek help for it, assuming the two of you want to get help. A psychologist who specializes in sexual malfunction wouldn't be a bad place to start. The two of you have to go. One of you just wouldn't work. Ever.