Written by Toni Arfaras
This blog includes descriptions of sexual activity.
I think it would be interesting to pinpoint the reasons people originally contact the Stroke Foundation be it through StrokeLine or jumping on the website. For me there were two reasons; driving and sex, though I’m not sure which one I considered the most important. One represented a misplaced sense of freedom and the other a part of my identity.
Both were important and post stroke I wanted to know if there were any restrictions on when either could begin. Driving was easy to locate; four weeks after a stroke with clearance from your doctor so that was an easy date to mark on the calendar.
Sex, on the other hand, was mined with all these variables and I hadn’t even started to understand the effects of my stroke so how could I know which would apply to me. Aargh!!!
For me there was an urgency…I needed to know everything still ‘worked’ and I also wanted that connection with my husband. Looking back on it I think I wanted to prove I was still me and that us as a couple would continue as ‘normal’. After 25 years of being together we’d settled into a familiar routine, we knew each other’s bodies pretty well, so I was pretty gung-ho about wanting to give sex a go. Nick had a few concerns but I brushed these off and so we proceeded to get intimate. I could sense Nick was a bit hesitant about how I was feeling and he was checking in with me that I was okay but I wasn’t having any of that; it was my body and I wanted it to function the way I remembered.
And I’m happy to report that everything worked and fireworks lit up the sky… on that occasion.
Since then we’ve discovered things don’t all ‘work’ as they did pre-stroke and this has affected both of us albeit in different ways; I experience the physical effects whilst Nick gets the psychological ones and they both have their challenges.
My stroke resulted in some left sided weakness, along with losing some of my sense of sensation on that side, and I can have some balance issues. I also get affected by severe sensory overload. None of these have been conducive to intimacy always being a positive experience.
The loss of sensation has affected the feeling within my left breast, an area I would have previously considered an erogenous zone, and has resulted in me saying:
“What are you doing that for?”…“I can’t feel anything.”…“That’s annoying.”
These sorts of comments are really good for a partner’s ego but the real kill the mood moments have occurred when my balance issues decide to make themselves known. There’s nothing like us starting to have a good time for me to then say:
“Urgh… I feel sick”…“the room is spinning”, or “I feel like I’m going to fall off.”
For me, the “I feel like I’m going to fall off” moments are the worst as I picture things I know won’t happen, but it’s funny where the mind takes you. Add to all that my sensory overload issues, which can be brought on by a session of love making, and being intimate can start to look a bit like a minefield.
While we can sometimes laugh about these things the flow on effect can’t be ignored. There can be a sense of trepidation as we wonder if these things will happen again. The psychological effects are amplified for Nick. My sensory overload can resemble a TIA so when I experience it Nick has to take on a carer role; he has to monitor if it’s lasting too long and decide if he should get me to a hospital. When these things happen during love making he feels a sense of responsibility as he thinks he has contributed to causing them; whilst I sit here I think how irrational that is but I know if the roles were reversed I would be thinking the same. These fears are something we continue to work through together as well as getting some counselling to assist us.
Each survivor’s experiences of stroke are different and this extends to how your deficits, and the psychological effects, will impact your intimate relationships. It may not be you that’s affected; it may be your partner. The important thing is to communicate and seek help from an outside source if required.