A Sexual Renaissance After Cancer

The phases of a cancer diagnosis might be compared with those of dealing with the death of a loved one: denial, bargaining, anger, and eventually acceptance. Fortunately for many, there IS life after cancer. A sexual life too, that part of one’s life may have been put on the back-burner during cancer treatment. The statistics on survivorship are astounding, creating a “before” and “after” picture for many.  It is important to understand both of them. Progression-free survival rates indicate no new tumors have formed. Whereas disease-free survival rates refer to remission, cancer free. The death rate from breast cancer has fallen 34% since 1991. Following the grueling chemotherapy, radiation, and/or surgery, it might not immediately occur to patients and their partners to re-connect through sexual activity.  I would encourage you or anyone you know in the survivorship phase, however, to make it a priority. Absent sexual activity, all genital tissues (skin, mucus membranes, and muscles), suffer from disuse atrophy. The good news is this: with the intention to connect or reconnect with your partner, and the use of various products available (if necessary), solutions to sexual activity may result in your “new normal.” Your body image, to the degree it suffered during cancer treatment may need a boost and a re-boot. A renewed sexual life can often help.

Sexual Healing
Whether due to cancer, certain medications that interfere with sexual response such as antidepressants, or menopause, sexual response changes during a lifetime. Menopause can be a premature consequence of cancer treatment. Both chemotherapy and pelvic radiation can result in menopause regardless of a woman’s age. Lubricants and vaginal moisturizers are readily available, but I caution you to look at the ingredients, as some may be irritants to those delicate tissues. Ingredients such as those found in spermicides, benzyl alcohol, and materials such as latex can cause discomfort for some.

With the sudden onset of menopause from surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, many women find that they experience intense vaginal dryness, and pain with sex (usually at the time of penetration). To mitigate this issue, vaginal moisturizers which are used on a routine basis whether one is having sex or not, can help to bring water into the vagina. Think about vaginal moisturizers like the moisturizer you use on your skin…you don’t just apply it when you are getting your picture taken. You use it on a regular basis. And lubricants (they aren’t the same as moisturizers) which come in oil, silicone, water-based, and mixtures of each of these can solve the dryness and lack of natural lubrication missing after some cancer treatments. Lubricants are used at the time one is having sex. They help the vagina operate as it once did naturally, and can make sexual activity more pleasurable by easing friction and lessening pain.

Enhance Sexual Pleasure
The marketplace has been flooded with sex-positive devices to enhance the sexual experience for both men and women. Toys, vibrators, dildos, and much more have piqued the curiosity of people who want to try something new. A medically accurate fantastic and friendly site middlesexmd.com/ can help educate you and your partner about new products, techniques and “tools” to keep your sensual side smoldering. Our office stocks a variety of such sexual aids and can help with proper selection, especially when sexual function is hampered. Keeping an open and honest discussion with your partner about your needs and interests, as they change in the “new normal” can alleviate anxiety and further build on a relationship that has endured and surpassed, the diagnosis of cancer. Get personal. Have fun. Explore.
To learn more please call the office at (202)293-1000 or email the practice at info@jamesasimonmd.com.

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