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Dating for Stroke Survivors: Love and Sexuality

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06 Jul 2023

how to date a stroke victim: a couple cuddling side by side while watching the horizon with a romantic glow to the image

We had people submit their post-stroke questions to our Resident Sexual Health Clinician, Dr. Kathryn Ellis, OTR/L, OTD, AASECT-SC, an occupational therapist and American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists Certified Sexuality Counselor. 

Can you find love after a stroke?

Yes, absolutely. You can certainly find love after a stroke. 

The best way to approach this is to ask yourself, “Why do you ask that question?” and “Where did you learn that people with disabilities aren't able to find love?” 

It may be that you never received a message that explicitly said that people with disabilities cannot find love, but maybe it’s been implicated to you. For example, people with disabilities are omitted from almost all romcom movies, so thinking about how that lack of representation might give you some insight into why you're even wondering if someone with a stroke can find love let alone be the character in a meet cute! So first, do an analysis of where you think that question is coming from. 

However, you very well may have already experienced discrimination, or hurtfulness, perhaps from a potential romantic partner that is making you say, “I've actually had an experience of rejection or a partner not wanting to be with me because of a stroke.” That is a very painful experience. 

Oftentimes what people with disabilities have found very helpful is to acknowledge that that person is not meant for you. And that it's a way to weed out people that would not be good partners for you. Rejection is not easy for anyone for any reason, but it can help you weed out partners that just are not the right fit for you.

How to date a stroke survivor?

First, you can read tips for dating with a disability and dating a person with a disability as an able-bodied person. The article is a good reference on the importance of communicating, especially during sex. 

how does stroke affect sexuality: shadows of plants against a wall

How can I be intimate after a stroke? 

Post stroke you may experience sensation changes. When you’re ready, be open to understanding in what ways your sensation has changed and how this changes what you feel when being sexual. Exploring, being curious, and nonjudgmental are good places to start post-stroke when returning to sexual activity. 

Have some mobility changes or pain post-stroke? You can also reference different sex positions for stroke survivors and items that can make sex more comfortable to make the re-discovery process a bit easier.

How does stroke impact sex drive? Can a stroke cause hypersexuality? Can it cause a low libido? 

Hyposexuality is more about difficulty initiating a task (initiating sex) and less about the actual sexual desire for sex. It’s important to decouple initiating sex from sexual desire as they are two different things. Hyposexuality typically has more to do with a lack of task initiation. As such, the individual may desire sex but not think to initiate it or not know how to, and that can lead to less initiation, which a partner may see as a lack of interest (which it may not be). 

Hypersexuality, similarly, is not necessarily an increased desire for the sex, but a lack of inhibition for that initiation. That means that they may be initiating at times that are not appropriate, such as in public, or they're not initiating at times that would make sense to initiate sex, such as when there's privacy. 

If initiation is the challenge, then you can communicate that to your partner and maybe your partner initiates more frequently. Or maybe you give yourself reminders to initiate sex, either through alerts on your phone or post-it notes. Alternatively, you and your partner can establish a pretty reliable routine where, for example, every Sunday night you're going to be sexual. This reduces the need to initiate sex.

For hypersexuality, it’s important to reframe this between partners as a lack of inhibition, rather than a drive or desire. What could be the best course of action is bringing this to your rehabilitation therapist such as occupational therapist or speech - cognitive therapist to work on ways you can learn to establish a structure for when you can be initiating sex.

How does a stroke affect sex: a hand reaching towards a shadow of a hand projected on a wall

Is divorce common after stroke?

Stroke doesn’t necessarily lead to divorce, but it can more clearly reveal difficulties the relationship had to begin with. They may not have been relationship difficulties at the forefront of the relationship, but they would have shown up some other time anyway. Going through a divorce post-stroke can be very difficult.

A helpful reframe might be that there was likely always an expiration date on the relationship instead of thinking the stroke was the cause of the divorce. Consider reviewing the above section on finding love after divorce and dealing with rejection whenever you need to.

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