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June 2014     Older Newsletters

Sex, Intimacy & Aphasia

June, 2014

Sara Palmer, Ph.D.

Are you frustrated by the lack or romance in your relationship after a stroke? Do you long for closeness, intimacy and a satisfying sex life with your partner, but find that it’s not happening? You are not alone! Most couples want to be intimate after a stroke, but a number of things can make this challenging.  Physical problems, such as medication side effects, incontinence, medical illnesses, and limited movement or sensation can reduce your sexual desire or function. But the biggest obstacles are psychological—fear of another stroke, depression, and lack of communication between partners.  When you or your partner has aphasia, sending and receiving messages about love, affection and sexual desire is especially difficult.

But don’t give up! Sexual intimacy after a stroke is possible, and well worth the effort. Good sex can improve your quality of life and your relationship with your partner—and it’s great exercise!

Here are some tips to help you enhance your sex life after a stroke in general and with aphasia in particular:

1.       Tips for Enhancing Sex and Intimacy after a Stroke:

·         Don’t be afraid of sex! Sexual activity is not likely to cause another stroke. If you have any concerns about this, ask your doctor.

·         Don’t be embarrassed to talk with your doctor about sexual issues. Changing medications, treating other medical conditions or better managing bladder incontinence may greatly improve your sex life.

·         Depression ruins the mood for romance. If you or your partner is depressed, discuss this with a doctor or mental health professional. Treatment for depression can increase your interest in sex and your ability to enjoy relating to your partner.

·         It’s OK to schedule sexual activity. There are many demands on your time. Time for sex may land at the bottom of your list unless you make it a priority. Make a date with your partner and put sex on the calendar. This can create excitement and give you both something to look forward to.

·         Fatigue is common after a stroke, so it’s important to have sex when you are well rested. “Bedtime” may not be the best time. Try having sex in the morning, or after a nap.

·         Don’t worry about sexual “performance.” Focus on sharing enjoyment and pleasure with your partner.

·         Be creative, experiment and have fun!


2.       Tips for Enhancing Sex and Intimacy with Aphasia

·         Find nonverbal activities that you and your spouse can enjoy together, such as listening to music, painting or drawing, daytrips, walks or dancing. These shared experiences create emotional closeness, setting the stage for sexual intimacy.

·         Use a combination of verbal and non-verbal communication to develop closeness and intimacy. Smiling and other facial expressions, touching, pictures, writing and gestures are ways that you can enhance communication when one partner has aphasia.

·         Express your romantic and sexual interests using gestures, caresses, kisses, and loving words, sounds, or even songs. Some people with aphasia can write or sing better than they can talk. Writing love notes or singing romantic songs are good ways to communicate your feelings and desires.

·         Create the mood for intimacy with romantic music and lighting, wear attractive or sexy clothing, or take a shower with your partner.  These actions speak louder than words!

·         While you are having sex, try using more explicit gestures than you did before the stroke, for example placing your partner’s hand where you want to be touched, or pantomiming particular sexual acts or movements.


Sexual intimacy can also be affected by changes in cognitive abilities, self-esteem, body image, and marital roles after a stroke.  More tips on improving your sexual relationship—as well as many other aspects of your marriage after a stroke—can be found in When Your Spouse Has a Stroke: Caring for Your Partner, Yourself and Your Relationship by Sara Palmer and Jeffrey B. Palmer (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011)



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May 2014

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