There are many physical and emotional changes after cancer that can affect sex and intimacy. Read more on ways to cope with and embrace this new normal in your bedroom.
They are the words no one wants to hear: "You have cancer". As you begin your journey of doctor visits, medications, and a seemingly never ending treatment plan, your mental health takes a turn. Then soon after, you realize that your sexual health may also take a hit - even though nobody really mentions it. Between medications, chemotherapy, radiation, hormonal changes, and surgeries, you start to feel disconnected from your body. Along with losing your hair and supple skin, you also feel a loss of femininity. I'll pause right now to tell you: you're not alone.
You're not alone when you stare in the mirror, trying to understand what has happened to your body as you see a different woman. If you are a breast cancer survivor in particular, you may see scars where you once had nipples, expanders where you once had breasts, a beanie where you once had hair. You're not alone when tears roll down your face as you turn away from the mirror, no longer able to look. I know that even just the thought of being touched is very difficult, and how difficult it is for your partner, who doesn't want to do anything that will upset or hurt you.
Your partner still has his or her sex drive, still finds you attractive, and still wants to be intimate with you, but how? You have no sex drive, you're as dry as the Sahara desert, and you no longer have sensation in certain areas.
Your "spot" was once your nipples. That's what turned you on! Now what? How can you be aroused and reach orgasm without nipple stimulation? On top of that, you feel embarrassed, self conscious, and unattractive. Once you're finally aroused, you face another roadblock- you're unusually dry. You may feel like all hope is lost.
Some common sexual function concerns after cancer include loss of desire, negative body image, depression, painful intercourse, loss of sensation in certain areas, vaginal dryness or tightness, and failure or difficulty to reach orgasm. For the last 11 years, I have been hosting workshops on Intimacy After Cancer. I realized how important a woman's body image is to her and how much treatment and effects of treatment can cause issues in their intimate life and compiled a few tips that can help yo ufind your "new (sexual) normal".
But first, if you are still in treatment, before engaging in sexual activity, make sure you talk to your doctor about any sexual restrictions. If you aren't sure how to talk to your doctor about sex, here are some great tips for initiating that conversation.
1. Try a vaginal moisturizer.
If you are experiencing vaginal dryness, you can try a vaginal moisturizer. Depending on your cancer diagnosis, you may need to stay away from estrogen. Your doctor may prescribe you something, or you can see if estrogen-free products like Replens seems like a fit for you!
2. Use a lubricant.
Pure Romance has two great lubricants that you can add into your sexual experience. You can opt for a paraben-free, all-natural lubricant, such as Pure Naked Lubricant, or a water-based, pH balanced lubricant. I recommend using a combination of the two. Moisturizers are for maintenance and lubricants are used during intercourse or with bedroom toys.
3. Have fun discovering your new "hot spot".
Your nipples may have been your previous "spot", but you are a new and improved woman. Explore different erogenous zones and have fun finding your new "spot" with your partner!
4. Use a heightener.
There are products on the market that help to provide a heightened sexual experience, help with arousal, and help you to reach orgasm. Depending on your sensitivity, you may want to opt for fragrance free products.
5. Use a vaginal dilator.
Your doctor may have recommended a dilator, but you couldn't bear using a device that looked like what you see at your gynecologist's office. Here is a vaginal dilator that is pleasing to the eye and will help decrease discomfort during intercourse.
The good thing is that most, if not all, of this is temporary. In the meantime, adapt to your new "normal". Be willing to accept your changes and move forward. Being intimate with your partner will come when you are ready. You may be ready immediately or you may want to wait a while, each person has their own journey. What is most important is that you keep the lines of communication open with your partner.
Do you have any other tips? Share them in the comments below.