One of the most frequently asked questions after a cancer diagnosis is about sex. While the initial shock of diagnosis may cause you to forget about sex in totality but after a while, questions start building up.
What will change?
What should I expect?
Will my sex drive reduce?
Will I be able to have sex?
Cancer and cancer treatment can cause you to experience a lot of changes. These changes may be physical or psychological. Your particular treatment plan also determines how much change you should expect as each option – surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy or hormone therapy, usually has its own side effects. Sex is beneficial to your physical and mental health so it is an important concern. We are all sexual beings and cancer does not change that. In fact, the emotional benefits of sex may help you cope with the demands of cancer care.
Overall, cancer and cancer treatment may affect your sex life in different ways. You may experience changes in your sexual desire, drive, arousal or experience difficulty in reaching orgasm. It is common for your desire for sex to reduce but this varies from person to person. Your side effects (such as nausea, hair loss, fatigue etc) may also affect your desire for sex but this is not present in everyone with cancer undergoing treatment. For example, men may have problems with sustaining an erection while women may have vaginal dryness. However, this is not the end of the road as there are solutions to these problems and your experiences may differ.
Lawrence Leshan once said “Getting cancer can become the beginning of living. The search for one’s own being and the discovery of life one needs to live, can be the strongest weapons against the disease”
How can you cope with these changes?
- Be patient: Getting back to your usual
state of health may take a while. This also includes your previous level of
sexual desire and activity. This means that you need to take things slower and
makes plans before starting sexual activity.
- Learn more: Ask your healthcare team if
the changes you are experiencing are temporary or permanent. You should also
learn more about changes to expect and how to manage them. Usually, it is safe
to have sex even if you are undergoing treatment. You may, however, ask your
doctor before engaging in sexual activities.
- Seek help: Your doctor may be able to
offer you medications for pain or to improve your sexual drive and performance,
or refer you to a sex counsellor who will help you with your problems.
- Ask about contraceptive options: This is
especially important due to the risk of having a pregnancy complicated by birth
defects. A barrier form of contraceptive is important if you are undergoing
chemotherapy because chemotherapy chemicals may be found in semen or vaginal
- Focus on alternatives to sex: You may opt for other ways of showing affection and being intimate that are different from sex such as kissing, holding hands, massaging, foreplay etc. the experience will be beneficial to you and your partner.
Still got questions or need further clarification? Please drop it in the comment box or chat with our oncologists and psychologists directly. We would love to hear from you.
Until the next episode. Remember; Sexuality is the ultimate expression of being alive. Do not be shy to embrace it and talk about these natural desires with your partner.
Loads of Love