Intimacy and sex may be the last thing on your mind if you are a women undergoing treatment for cancer. However, a healthy sex life is important to your healing process as you reclaim your life after treatment.
Many women experience sexual dysfunction after cancer treatment. Most are too uncomfortable to discuss it or seek help. According to this article in the American Cancer Society's journal, Cancer, about 42% of 200 women surveyed at a University of Chicago cancer clinic said they wanted medical care for sexual concerns, but only 7% had asked for the help.
Some of the issues are physical side effects of chemotherapy induced menopause:
- Vaginal dryness
Others are emotional such as low libido and negative body image, especially if your body has been physically altered such as with a mastectomy or if you have surgical scars. I am a breast cancer survivor who has experienced all of these side effects. When I discussed my diminished sexual desire with my oncologist she told me it was important to have more sex to maintain my vaginal health. Now, I never linked vaginal health to breast cancer treatment, but research taught me that seven in ten women who are breast cancer survivors experience sexual problems in the two years after their diagnosis.
Easing back into a healthy sex life after cancer treatment is a sensitive topic. It takes learning to accept and love your body "as is" in some cases and sometimes it takes a little help. Here are four tips that can help:
- Communicate: Tell your partner is a nice way what feels good and what does not. Demonstrate what you mean if you have to.
Finally, set the stage for intimacy in your bedroom:
- Put electronics like mobile phones and other devices in another room
Cancer treatment is a traumatic experience. Your body sometimes feels like a human pin cushion from being pricked with needles and side effects can render you physically exhausted and emotionally spent. Easing back into intimacy may take time. Learning to make love again starts with learning to love your body again. You can be a sexy and healthy survivor.