Combatting cancer is an all consuming quest with the prize being survival. Surviving is, without a doubt, something to brandish above your head like a great, glimmering trophy. However, unfortunately, surviving does not repair everything nor is it the end of the journey.Reviving sexuality, a vital aspect of human life, after surviving cancer can be a daunting challenge. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are approximately 12 million cancer survivors in the U.S. and many of them (40% to 100% depending on the type of cancer and treatment) suffer from a sexual problem directly related to their illness (Zimmerman, 2011). Here are some tips, for both men and women, survivors and their spouses, to keep in mind on the journey to reviving sexuality:
• Recognize the problem. Understand that sexual disfunction may be caused by a physical or psychological condition. Physically, a woman may experience treatment-induced menopause or vaginal dryness or pain during sex while a man may be unable to get or sustain an erection. Psychologically, survivors may loose interest in sex, suffer from depression, feel anxiety about their ability to perform, feel a sense of shame, or lack confidence (i.e. have a negative body image).
• Start out small. You don’t have to have sex right away. Enjoy just touching your partner; try giving one another a massage. Don’t become obsessed with the act of sex. Sex should be enjoyable - not a task that has to be completed.
• Try something new. Take time to explore with your partner and determine what feels good for both of you. Try a new sexual position, which may reduce or prevent pain during sex.
• Don’t be afraid to accessorize. If you experience vaginal dryness or pain during intercourse try a vaginal moisturizer or a lubricant. However, do your homework first! Talk to a medical professional or knowledgable staff member or do some research as some lubricants are meant for “every day” use while others are for “special occasions” only. When needed, don’t be embarrassed to incorporate other sexual aids into your routine (ex. vibrators) as well.
• Get fit. Studies have shown that exercise can help prevent certain cancers and their reoccurrence. In addition, working out helps improve confidence, increase blood circulation, and produces endorphins which may help with mood, anxiety, and depression.
• Don’t give up. Keep trying and be patient with yourself. If you are a cancer survivor, recognize that your partner is there for you - he or she is not “bored” and you should not feel rushed. Don’t label an attempt at engaging in intercourse as a “success” or “failure”. Instead, recognize that this is an ongoing process towards recovery and reviving sexuality.
Reviving sexuality after surviving cancer is a a quest all on its own. Be patient with yourself and your partner as well as open minded. Try to see this journey not as a challenge but as an opportunity to bring you and your partner closer together.
Article contributed by Alex Webb an behalf of the Urology Group in Cincinnati. Alex formerly worked for a company dedicated to empowering and educating women on sexual health. The concept stuck with her after her departure and she now regularly contributes guest posts about health and fitness topics (although not strictly for women) to various blogs. Follow her on Twitter @alexandriakwebb.
Zimmerman, R. (2011). Sex After Cancer: How To Get Your GrooveBack.