During a stroke, blood flow to the brain is temporarily impaired, leaving brain cells without oxygen and necessary nutrients. Depending on the severity, a person might have brain damage or physical disability afterward.
Recovering from a stroke takes time and patience, but intimacy is certainly possible, especially if couples are open to making adjustments. Being sexual isn’t always about intercourse. Kissing, cuddling, and caressing can still be satisfying.
Is it safe to have sex after a stroke?
Your doctor can best advise on when you can resume sexual activity. Many stroke survivors and their partners worry that sex could trigger another stroke. However, research suggests that this is unlikely.
Don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor about any concerns.
The physical changes associated with a stroke often depend on what part of the brain is affected. Some of the most common issues affecting sexuality include:
- Aphasia (difficulty speaking or understanding speech). Stroke survivors may need to work with a speech therapist or create new ways to communicate.
- Paralysis or weakness. Some sexual positions might be a challenge. You and your partner can experiment to see what feels best. Using pillows or a sex wedge might help.
- Loss of sensation. Sensation in certain areas, including the genitals, might feel different or diminished.
- Fatigue. Some people find that they don’t have the energy for sex like they used to. Try being intimate at a time when you feel rested.
- Arousal difficulties. Men might experience erectile dysfunction, and vaginal dryness can be a problem for women. Often, these issues are not directly stroke-related, but linked to other health problems like diabetes and heart disease. Your doctor can suggest treatment options.
- Loss of desire. Both physical and emotional challenges can interfere with sex drive. Low libido can be a side effect of medications as well. (Note: Talk to your doctor before making any medication changes!)
After a stroke, it’s not unusual to suffer from depression or anxiety. You might feel nervous about what the future holds, frustrated if you can’t do the things you used to, or worried about satisfying a partner. If you are in a long-term relationship with a partner, you might sense a change in relationship dynamics, especially if that person is playing more of a caregiving role.
Be open about how you’re feeling. It will help for your partner to understand where you are coming from. You can work together on adjustments and solutions.
If you find it difficult to communicate your feelings, consider seeing a relationship counselor or sex therapist.
(Page last updated: April 21, 2020)
“Sex and Intimacy after Stroke”
Stroke Foundation (Australia)
“Sex and relationships after stroke fact sheet”
Vega, Jose, MD, PhD
“How Sexuality Changes After Stroke”
(Reviewed: January 13, 2020)