There’s a lot to think about when undergoing cancer treatment — appointments, medications, self-care — so sex and intimacy might not be a priority. But a healthy, fulfilling physical and emotional connection during treatment can often aid in recovery. Emotional intimacy and physical touch have been shown to have healing effects, and feelings of love and support can be immensely important during illness.
One thing to keep in mind when it comes to sex during treatment is that it may not look or feel the same as before, and that’s OK. With honest and open communication, you can maintain a connection to your partner even during this difficult time.
Cancer and Your Sex Life
There aren’t many types of cancer that preclude sexual activity, but there are a few for which your doctor may advise you to exercise caution. For instance, patients undergoing bone marrow treatment have extremely compromised immune systems. This doesn’t mean you can’t have sex. But you may experience it differently, taking extra precautions against infection. For those with prostate cancer, penetrative sex may not be possible, as erectile dysfunction can often accompany treatment for prostate cancer. That doesn’t have to mean going without, but you might have to change things up.
Cancer treatment can lead to early menopause in some women, as estrogen suppression causes a drop in libido, thinning of the vaginal tissue and less lubrication. Maybe you don’t want to have sex at all, or you’re not feeling ready for the way you used to have sex. Instead of dwelling on the changes in your body, try to see this as an opportunity to explore, finding joy in new kinds of intimacy with your partner.
Communication Is Key
Many patients tend to shy away from discussing sexual health issues during cancer treatment. For those times, the American Cancer Society offers a wealth of resources, including sexual health pamphlets for men and women that may be helpful jumping-off points for understanding the changes in your body during cancer treatment and initiating a conversation about sex with a doctor or partner.
Therapists and counselors can help, too, by facilitating communication between you and your partner or suggesting new ways to experience touch and intimacy. For example, take the focus away from orgasm, which may be difficult for some cancer patients to achieve. Instead, look toward foreplay, caressing, kissing or hugging to show each other love while taking the pressure off.
It’s important not to compare your sex life before with your sex life now, or to compare yourself to anyone else undergoing treatment. Each person, cancer case and relationship is unique. That adds up to a lot of variables when it comes to your relationship, but it also means a lot of reasons to be positive and hopeful. Cancer doesn’t have to be a limitation. In fact, it can help you and your partner have intimacy in exciting new ways.
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