Let’s Get It On

I peeked at the title of the brochure I'd been given — “Sex After Stroke.” Oh goodie, something else to worry about. It might as well have said, “No Way You’re Having Sex After Stroke.”

LIFE at the CURB

A Unique Perspective on Survival by Stroke Survivor and Comedian John Kawie

Fourteen days into my stroke — and 21 days after my wedding — I was sitting on my hospital bed contemplating a future of AFO’s, wheelchairs and Velcro. My new body may have needed the first two, but at 47 I wasn’t about to trade in my favorite Jack Purcells for a pair of Velcro-strapped sneakers that all but screamed “reverse mortgage.” So I decided to sharpen my one-handed shoelace tying technique.

In the middle of attempting to unravel yet another tangled rat’s nest I heard a determined rap on my door. A stout, strange woman stormed into the room like a human microburst. Discombobulated, she pulled her worn, hemp bag across her body, plopped down in the chair opposite me, and with no introduction or preamble, leaned forward and asked, “Mr. Kawie, are you able to have an erection, and more importantly, have you had one lately?”

Now, anyone requesting that information had better be wearing a white coat with a stethoscope around their neck. When I responded, “And you would be…?” she revealed she was St. Vincent’s resident psychologist. Her concern seemed to me like dropping a turkey and making sure that the pop-up thermometer’s okay. But she wanted an answer so I said, “All systems go...Houston we have no problem.” With that she took a booklet from her bag, deposited it on my lap, and disappeared.

I peeked at the title — “Sex After Stroke.” Oh goodie, something else to worry about. It might as well have said, “No Way You’re Having Sex After Stroke.” Is this the next shoe that drops? Is stroke the clown car of debilities, where just when you think you’ve seen every problem there’s always one more rearing its hideous, painted face ready to jump out and spritz you with a seltzer bottle?

The cover was divided into four quadrants each showing huggy, happy couples who looked anything but disabled. However two of the guys creepily resembled Richard Simmons and Dan Quayle. (Talk about a cold shower.)

I did what my younger self would have done with a Playboy magazine: I skipped to the pictures.

I turned the page and glanced at the Table of Contents. Fear of this, fear of that, fear of things I never feared before. I was overwhelmed with everything I wouldn’t be able to do. So I did what my younger self would have done with a Playboy magazine — skip to the pictures. Only in this case they were simplistic line drawings reminiscent of a DIY Ikea manual illustrating various positions. It was a veritable, disabled Kama Sutra attempting to do for wheelchairs what my hormone-enhanced teenage mind did for the back seat of a ’57 Chevy. If erotica was the objective, it wasn’t working. Still, I was impressed they came up with so many. Personally, I could only imagine three:

Fig 1. Me on the bottom

Fig 2. Me on the bottom

Fig 3. Me on the bottom

The rest of the day was what I now call the “Afternoon of Mixed Epiphanies.” One minute I’m a helpless stroke survivor never to experience intimacy again — and the next I’m thinking maybe all is not lost, because, in a way, stroke is like starting over. I remembered when I was a kid my libido’s built-in GPS guided me. It may have taken me the long way around, but it always got me where I wanted to go. Eventually, with a little practice, I got the hang of it.

Like trying to tie a sneaker one handed, but way more enjoyable.

Editor’s Note: Despite John’s light-hearted take on the issue of sex and intimacy after stroke, we know it can be a difficult subject for people to broach with their doctor and often with each other. If you’d like a more serious take on the topic, visit our March/April 2009 issue of Stroke Connection online or request information by calling 1-888-478-7653 or emailing strokeconnection@heart.org.


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Stroke Rehabilitation

Making the Best Decisions at Discharge After Stroke

The type of rehabilitation and support systems a survivor receives at discharge can strongly influence health outcomes and recovery. In this, the first part of a two-part series on stroke rehab, we offer guidance for the decision-making process required when it’s time to leave the hospital.

What to Expect from Outpatient Rehab

After stroke, about two-thirds of survivors receive some type of rehabilitation. Outpatient therapy may consist of Several types of therapy. Whether a patient is referred to inpatient or outpatient therapy depends on the level of medical care required.

What to Expect in Stroke Rehab

Following a stroke, about two-thirds of survivors receive some type rehabilitation. In this second of our two-part series, we want to alleviate some of the mystery, fear and anxiety around the inpatient rehab part of the stroke recovery journey.
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AHA-ASA Resources

The Support Network

When faced with challenges recovering from heart disease or stroke, it’s important to have emotional support. That is why we created a network to connect patients and loved ones with others during their journey.

Caregiver Guide to Stroke

The Caregiver Guide to Stroke is meant to help caregivers better navigate the recovery process and the financial and social implications of a stroke.

Stroke Support Group Finder

To find a group near you, simply enter your ZIP code and a mile radius. If your initial search does not pull up any groups, try

Tips for Daily Living Library

This volunteer-powered library gathers tips and ideas from stroke survivors, caregivers and healthcare professionals all over the country who’ve created or discovered adaptive and often innovative ways to get things done!

Stroke Family Warmline

The Warmline connects stroke survivors and their families with an ASA team member who can provide support, helpful information or just a listening ear.

Let's Talk About Stroke Patient Information Sheets

Let's Talk About Stroke is a series of downloadable patient information sheets, created by the American Stroke Association, that presents information in a question-and-answer format that's brief, easy to follow and easy to read.

Request Free Stroke Information Packets

Fill out this online form to request free information about a variety of post-stroke topics.
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Stroke & Parts of the Brain

When Stroke Affects the Occipital Lobe

Our occipital lobe, the smallest of the four lobes of the cerebral cortex, controls how we visually interpret our world.

When Stroke Affects the Cerebellum

The cerebellum contains 80 percent of our neurons. Its job seems to be to make things better. We talked with neuroscientist Jeremy Schmahmann about how stroke affects the “little brain.”

When Stroke Affects the Parietal Lobe

The parietal lobe helps us make sense of sensory information, like where our bodies and body parts are in space, our sense of touch, and the part of our vision that deals with the location of objects.

When Stroke Affects the Frontal Lobe

Of the four lobes that make up the cerebral cortex, the frontal lobe is the largest. It plays a huge role in many of the functions that make us human — memory, language, movement, judgment, abstract thinking.

When Stroke Affects the Temporal Lobe

The temporal lobe has several functions, mainly involved with memory, perception and language.

When Stroke Affects the Brain Stem

The brain stem serves as a bridge in the nervous system. It sits at the top of the spinal column in the center of the brain. When a stroke happens there, it can cause a few different deficits and, in the most severe cases, can lead to locked-in syndrome.

When Stroke Affects the Thalamus

The thalamus can be thought of as a "relay station," receiving signals from the brain’s outer regions (cerebral cortex), interpreting them, then sending them to other areas of the brain to complete their job.
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Stroke Notes

Stroke-related news you can use about new scientific findings, public policy, programs and resources.

Readers Room

Articles, poems and art submitted by stroke survivors and their loved ones.

Life Is Why

Everyone has a reason to live a longer, healthier life. These stroke survivors, caregivers and others share their 'whys'. We'd love for you to share yours, too!

Everyday Survival

Practical tips and advice for day-to day living after stroke.

Life At The Curb

A unique perspective on survival by comedian and stroke survivor John Kawie.

Simple Cooking

Cooking at home can be a daunting task, but a rewarding one for your diet and lifestyle (and your wallet). Making small changes in your diet is important to your heart health. Here are simple, healthy and affordable recipes and cooking tips.

Helping Others Understand

Stroke affects people differently and many of the effects of stroke can be complicated. Helping friends and family understand how a stroke is affecting a survivor can help everyone involved.

Support Showcase

Our new department highlighting the good work being done by stroke support groups from around the nation. If you are part of a successful support group we should consider featuring, let us know!