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Cancer can affect many aspects of an individual’s life, which may temporarily depress your libido.  Losing your normal appearance during chemotherapy, discomforts related to radiation and changes from surgery, such as loss of breasts can leave you uncertain about your sexuality and self-worth.  However, sex CAN and DOES CONTINUE after cancer.  A survivor wants a healthy and active sex life to accept her body.  The need and desire for sex and intimacy does not diminish after treatment.  Your identity comes from inside, your life will go on!

Follow these suggestions for a healthy sex life and intimacy during cancer treatment:

  • Keep good lines of communication open with your partner.  Fears, concerns, and misunderstandings only multiply if they remain hidden.
  • Face the ordeal of cancer with a loving partner. It may bring you closer together than ever before. There may be a new appreciation for life.
  • Be patient, it takes time for emotions, feelings, and desires to adjust after the trauma of a cancer diagnosis.
  • Openly discuss feelings and concerns.  If you are unable to do so, seek a professional counselor or talk to your oncologist or gynecologist.
  • Nurture a positive self-image, feel good about yourself despite physical changes by:
    • Addressing your feelings of lack of physical appeal by using tools and techniques for hair replacement, skin care, make-up and prosthesis or breast reduction
    • Image enhancement and normalization can help you feel well!
    • Show your changed body, including baldhead, loss of pubic hair, and surgical scars to your partner. Once you do the awkwardness is dispelled
    • Allow your partner to help with applying Vitamin E and Aloe Vera to scars from breast surgery or on a bald scalp. This touching will pave the way for further intimacy
    • Explore acts of love and tenderness to be shared and enjoyed.  Intercourse is only one way of experience intimacy
    • Ease into and experiment with techniques that may provide sexual arousal and stimulation for you and your partner. This “relearning” how to be intimate should take away anxiety and pressure of being close again.
      • Choose a time when you both have the most energy.
      • Soak in a warm bath together
      • Listen to relaxing music in an atmosphere of scented candlelight
      • A new generation of erotic videos, recommended by gynecologists and produced by women, may help with arousal
      • Explore by gently touching or allowing yourself to be touched in all areas of the body that remain sexually sensitive
      • Use hugging, cuddling, fondling, stroking, massage, and all forms of touching the body
      • Verbally expressing love and kissing are powerful expressions of sexuality
      • Laughing and playing during intimacy are expressions of sexuality
      • Intercourse may be painful because of vaginal dryness from chemotherapy, hysterectomy causing premature menopause, diminished hormones from medications such as Tamoxifen and radiation.  Talk to your gynecologist. Consider trying over the counter lubrications such as the ones listed below.
      • Vaseline’s and other petroleum based gels are not recommended because they are not water soluble
      • Cancer therapies can lower immunity to infection. Notify your doctor if pain, burning, or discomfort occurs or persists
      • Do not rely on so-called aphrodisiacs. They are a waste of time and money
      • Most survivors who were able to achieve orgasm before cancer treatment are still able to do so after treatment
      • Use female dominant and side entry positions to keep control over the amount of entry and discomfort during intercourse

Remember to enjoy and remain interested in sex throughout your life – it is the hallmark of a survivor, whether you have had cancer or not!

Resource: From “To Be Alive – A Women’s Guide to a Full life after Cancer”, Runoqicz, Carolyn D. MD, and Haupt, Donna, Henry Holt and Company, 1995.