Sex, Sexuality and Cancer

depression-20280When you are coping with cancer and cancer treatment, your main focus probably has something to do with survival, which make perfect sense. As your team is assembled and a game plan mapped out, thoughts may wander to cancer’s effects on day to day living including sex and sexuality. After all, as humans we are made to love and be loved. Perhaps the following questions have crossed your mind:

How can cancer affect my sex life and sexuality?

Many cancer patients and survivors report some degree of sexual complication related to their illness. It is common to experience a decrease in desire for sex, changes in sexual functioning and orgasm and changes in connection to sexuality – the way you feel about yourself when it comes to sex and your need for closeness and touch. Emotional issues that existed prior to treatment or as a result of cancer such as depression, anxiety and grief may complicate sexual activity. Many individuals resign themselves to a life of unsatisfying sex as cancer’s ‘salt-in-the-wound’ but it does not need to be this way. There are lots of things to be considered, experimented with and talked about. Granted, sex may not be the same as before cancer but that does not mean it can’t be fulfilling and, perhaps, even better than before treatment.

How can body changes affect sexual desire?

Battling cancer is a life-altering experience and one that can leave physical and emotional evidence of the fight. As you cope with cancer, adjusting to how you view yourself as a sexual being takes time and can affect your appetite for sex especially if your treatment has left permanent reminders. Hormonal changes resulting from treatment or hormone therapy can also reduce desire for sex as the hormones testosterone, progesterone and estrogen get out of whack. Genital pain can occur when sexual encounters are attempted and affect your desire for future sex if pain becomes synonymous with intercourse. Anxiety may overtake desire as what came naturally in the bedroom prior to cancer treatment is now unpredictable and foreign. It’s important to keep sex focused on connection and pleasure and not engage in behaviors that are painful. Although it may seem unattainable, desire for sex can be nurtured and increased through conversation, patience and playfulness.

What can I do to tackle sexual issues associated with cancer treatment?

Talking about sexual issues is one of the most helpful tools in your toolbox. Discussing sex with your medical team over the course of treatment and during follow-up appointments not only provides you with information but it underscores the importance of intimacy to professionals. Talking with your partner about your fears, sadness and sexual side effects as well as what kind of touch might feel good, how you wish to be loved and how you would like to show love is vital to a healthy sex life. Finally, discussing sexual issues with a therapist specializing in sex therapy AND couples therapy can provide you with a safe environment to talk about your experience with cancer, your sexuality and sex. These therapists in particular, especially if they have worked with cancer patients and their doctors before, are a wealth of information, and have been very successful in helping their clients reclaim a loving and satisfying sexual life that suits both partners.

Important video resource provided by Swedish Cancer Institute:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUj8dIsMglc&feature=youtu.be

 

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Kristin Nielsen MS, LMFT, CIIP is a marriage and family therapist in private practice on Lake Union in Seattle. She sits with individuals and couples dealing with many issues such as anxiety and depression as well as relationship difficulties and life transitions. She is a certified integrated intimacy professional specializing in sexual health and intimacy.

Kristin Nielsen MS, LMFT, CIIP

knielsencounseling.com

knielsencounseling@gmail.com

425-210-0381

 

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