One of the most common complaints I hear from cancer survivors is a change in their sex life. Within days after returning home from my mastectomy, I attempted to be intimate with my husband even though I had yet to regain the ability to dress or shower myself with medical drains still attached. I thought this would be good idea but my husband briskly pushed me away. This was yet another blow to my already very fragile state.
Years later, we talked about that afternoon. My husband explained his fear of hurting me while I was undergoing treatment. Throughout my battle with cancer, my husband said he worried that being intimate would somehow interfere with the therapies I was receiving or take away some of my very limited energy. Conversely, I still needed to feel attractive and loved. Cancer had robbed me of so much at the time, I desperately needed one part of my life to feel “normal”.
Sexuality during and after treatment seems to be one of those topics that patients and their partners struggle with-where often times both parties are not on the same page. Whether it is the cancer patient who has limited interest or ability to engage in sexual activities or his/her partner who worries about this connection, the end result can lead to a disconnect in this aspect of a relationship.
There are many reasons why intimacy can change during and after treatment. Some of these reasons include hormonal changes that decrease libido, difficulty reaching climax, inability to achieve and maintain an erection, or reduced vaginal lubrication. Beyond the physical symptoms, many of the psychological issues such as feeling unattractive due to scars or hair loss can also drastically impact a patient’s desire.
I often encourage survivors to try and speak openly about this with their partner as well as their doctor if necessary. There are lots of suggestions that a medical professional may recommend such as the use of specific lubricants, finding a time in the day where fatigue may be less of an issue, learning to be patient with your body, or speaking with a sex therapist. My husband’s fears during my treatment motivated us to find other ways to be intimate. This included lots of kissing and cuddling. Rediscovering this part of our relationship actually brought us closer together. The good news is most patients do report that their sex life eventually return back to normal, if not a new normal.
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