Starting over after cancer can mean a lot of different things. But let’s talk about something we are embarrassed to discuss, pretend isn’t there, or completely give up on after cancer…
I don’t know about you, but prior to breast cancer, I had a healthy, enjoyable, sex life. Believe it or not, cancer changes everyyything about this aspect of your life. For those of us with hormone receptive cancers, treatment can be detrimental to our bodies and even our level of desire. Where is the fun in that?
Recently, I met another metastatic breast cancer patient who discreetly whispered to me that she had some questions about sex after cancer. We still haven’t gotten around to that discussion, but it made me think of how many times this conversation comes up at conferences, in private groups, as well as whispered amongst friends. We are all thinking about it, there is no shame in it, so let’s get this dialogue going.
Not quite dead yet*
The first comment usually made is about pain. Yes, vaginal atrophy can be very painful and is common amongst breast cancer patients. Sometimes it feels like you are being ripped apart by fire ants. Sounds great, right? So how do we combat that? Lubrication is key, but what may work for you may not work for someone else so you must experiment a bit. Some (including myself) swear by coconut oil (or Vitamin E) inserted into the vagina daily. This creates a general lubrication but may not be enough for sexual activity. It does however, leave your vagina with a noticeable feeling of comfort. You can increase this product as a sexual lubrication while in the moment, however it doesn’t seem as convenient as over the counter lubricants. For over the counter lubricants, look for something all natural with little to no fragrances added to decrease the chance of further irritation. Trial and error is your best bet in this department. Also, if your cancer is hormone receptive, watch for any ingredients or advertising showing that estrogen is included. You definitely want to stay away from estrogen based products.
The second complaint a lot of breast cancer patients have is in the desire department. We may not feel desirable in our new bodies. For us single gals, who is going to want us with all of these scars, no breasts, and maybe no or crazily growing in hair? It is also common for us to “just not feel like it anymore”. I believe the two can be related in some instances. The decrease in our hormones can lower our sex drives, however when we don’t feel desirable, it is hard to get yourself in the mood so to speak. Our partners may not understand this as they love us just as we are, but when you have the idea that you are damaged in some way by this horrific experience, it is hard to feel wanted. Mentally, we put our sex drive on lock down until we start feeling better about ourselves and our experience.
What if you aren’t married but are single and ready to mingle? This can definitely be overwhelming. Not only do you need to tell your potential partner that you are a breast cancer survivor or living with metastatic breast cancer, you also have the worry about if you’ll even be able to have sex with someone. This can be a daunting task that some feel is best left in the past. But if a cancer patient knows anything, it is that life is short and we all need to focus on what is important to us. Ask yourself, honestly, if having a relationship is something that you want for your life. If it is, don’t let your fear of sex keep you from it. You may be pleasantly surprised…multiple times (wink).
Get Your Groove Back
There is truth in the adage that if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. For those of us who haven’t been intimate in a while, it can be painful at first. It can also be surprisingly wonderful. As human beings, we crave intimacy with our partners. It’s an important part of any successful relationship. Of course that is not the only requirement for a successful partnership, but it certainly helps keeps that spark alive and that twinkle in your eye. And you can have a fulfilling sex life after cancer!
The most important step in this process is to be honest with your partner, your doctor, and even yourself. Ask yourself why you no longer have an active sex life and if there is anything you can, or want, to do about it. Then do not be afraid to talk about it. In my opinion, our partners want to know what we need in this area. Ask your girlfriends how they handle a similar situation. Maybe you have to start slow after diving into a vat of KY Jelly only to stop ten seconds later…I’m pretty sure your partner will be pleased, as will you, with even that first step. Sometimes, just the effort and interest goes a long way in a relationship.
And remember, sex should be fun! If it isn’t, have that difficult and sometimes embarrassing conversation about how to make it better. You will be happy you did (bow-chicka-wowow).
*Monty Python reference
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