Regaining Sexual Confidence After Cancer

Having cancer can affect every aspect of your life, including your sexuality. Whether your treatment has included surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, biotherapy, or any combination of the four, you will need to make adjustments in your life as you recover.

Remember that talking honestly with your partner is important to maintaining a strong, supportive relationship. Be patient, be creative. Your nurse can provide you with referrals to professional counselors experienced in helping patients who have sexual problems following treatment. The pleasure of sexual closeness enhances quality of life and can be adapted, no matter what treatment has been used. Talk with your doctor or nurse about any restrictions you may have. The following are suggestions to help you and your partner regain sexual closeness.

Before You Resume Sexual Activity

  • Focus on your physical recovery first. Emphasize nutrition, rest, and a gradual return to regular activity.
  • Include your partner in all discussions about your care and treatment while you are still in the hospital.
  • Be sure that your discharge instructions include advice about resuming sexual activity. If your nurse or doctor doesn’t mention it, feel free to ask.
  • Obtain a copy of the booklet Sexuality & Cancer, a publication available from the American Cancer Society. There areseparate versions of this booklet — one for men with cancer and their partners and one for women with cancer and their partners. Additional books and pamphlets on intimacy, sexuality, sperm banking, and contraceptives are available. Speak to your nurse about obtaining additional information.
  • Use birth control, if indicated by your doctor or nurse.
  • You’ve been through a lot. It may take some time before you are interested in sex again. Be patient with yourself.
  • Report any unusual bleeding, discharge, fever, or pain to your doctor or nurse.

When You Feel Ready

  • Remember that self-concept and sexuality are linked, so emphasize the positive aspects of your appearance and personality.
  • Wear comfortable, attractive lounging clothes and perhaps perfume or cologne, not only to arouse your partner, but to feel good about yourself.
  • Set the stage for sexual contact by choosing a time when both you and your partner are rested and free from distractions.
  • A warm shower together allows partners to begin foreplay in a relaxed way.
  • A glass of wine, candlelight, and music can add to a romantic mood.
  • Mutual massage, not only of the genital area, but of the neck, chest, buttocks, and thighs, is stimulating to both partners.
  • Use of erotic materials, such as books and movies, can help stimulate interest in sexual activity.
  • Experiment with positions until you find one that is most comfortable for you. If you are feeling fatigued, try positions that require minimal exertion.
  • Use a water-soluble lubricant (such as K-Y Jelly, Astroglide, or Replens) to increase vaginal moisture. Do not use petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline).
  • Use prescribed pain medication or muscle relaxants, if necessary, to make sexual activity more comfortable.
  • Conserve energy for sexual activity, perhaps by giving certain household chores to others.
  • Explore alternate ways of expressing physical love.
  • Communicate needs and desires so that sexual activity is pleasurable for both partners.
  • Consider joining a support group, where you will find couples with concerns similar to yours.
  • Consider sexual rehabilitation or sexual counseling if there are physical or psychological barriers that do not resolve with time.
  • Most important, remember that with some effort by you and your partner, your sexual life can return to what it was ... or maybe it can be even better.

"CHANGES" by Sue Grier

Our lives once had a rhythm
The hectic pace of a busy life
Jobs, travel, children, errands
But always able to return
To the comfort of each other
Our rhythm disrupted by illness
The frantic pace of survival
Hospitals, surgery, chemo, radiation
Afraid we would never return
To the comfort of each other
A new rhythm out of the chaos
The slow pace back to normalcy
Communication, time, patience, love
The journey back and our return
To the comfort of each other

Reprinted with permission from Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories