Sexuality After Stroke

November 2018: McGrath M, Lever S, McCluskey A and Power E. (In press) How is sexuality after stroke experienced by stroke survivors and partners of stroke survivors? A systematic review of qualitative studies. Clinical Rehabilitation, https://doi.org/10.1177/0269215518793483

Objective: To synthesise how post-stroke sexuality is experienced by stroke survivors and partners of stroke survivors.

Methods: MEDLINE, PubMed, SCOPUS, CINAHL and PsycINFO were searched from inception to May 2018 using a combination of relevant Medical Subject Headings and Free Text Terms. Only papers published in English reporting original qualitative research were included. Methodological quality was assessed using the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme Qualitative Research Checklist. All text presented as ‘results’ or ‘findings’ in the included studies was extracted and subjected to a thematic analysis and synthesis which was discussed and agreed by the research team.

Results: The initial search yielded 136 unique papers with a further 8 papers identified through reference checking. Following full-text review, 43 papers were included in the final synthesis. Two analytical themes were identified: sexuality is silenced and sexuality is muted and sometimes changed, but not forgotten. These themes were made up of six descriptive themes: struggle to communicate within relationships, health professionals don’t talk about sexuality, sexuality and disability is a taboo topic, changes to pre-stroke relationships, changed relationship with the stroke survivor’s own body and resuming sexual intimacy – adaptation and loss.

Conclusion: Stroke has a profound impact on how sexuality is experienced by both stroke survivors and partners of stroke survivors. Despite this, post-stroke sexuality is rarely discussed openly. Stroke survivors and partners value sexuality and may benefit from strategies to support adjustment to post-stroke sexuality.