Sexuality Issues for Women Being Treated for Cancer
When you are undergoing treatment for cancer, you may have side effects that affect your physical response to sex. You may also experience changing feelings about who you are, how you feel about yourself, and how you feel about your relationships. All of these feelings can influence your sexuality.
How Cancer Treatment May Affect Sexuality
Sexuality not only refers to sexual intercourse, but to other means of sexual expression, such as touching and kissing. Treatment for cancer can cause many changes that may affect your sexuality. It can also change the physical or emotional closeness you share with another person, also known as your expressions of intimacy. Different treatments can cause different physical and psychological changes that can affect how you feel, look, and function. These changes may be temporary, or they may last a long time.
Treatment may affect you physically so that your body doesn’t respond sexually the way you’ve learned to expect. These are some of the sexual changes that you may experience during treatment for cancer.
All of these changes can affect a woman’s sexuality and her ability and interest in sexual activity.
Self-esteem and body image are important factors that define how a woman feels about herself. If your feelings about yourself and your body change, it can influence how you feel about being intimate with others. These are some of the side effects of treatment that may affect your body image.
Questions to Ask Before Treatment
Many women are uncomfortable talking about sex. It may help to bring up the subject with your doctor or nurse before you start treatment so you are better prepared for how it may affect you sexually. Take the time to gather as much information as possible. Here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor or nurse before treatment. Consider asking your partner to be with you during these discussions.
Talking About Sexual Changes
Whether the changes are short-term or they last longer, you can find ways to feel good about yourself and be intimate with your partner. It is important to remember to be patient and give yourself time.
Express what is happening and how you feel. You may feel awkward talking about sexual issues and might find it hard to be honest about how you feel. Your partner and even your doctor or nurse might wait for you to bring up the subject of sex because they don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable. It can be helpful, though, if you ask questions and talk about your sexual issues or concerns. Use these questions to help you put your feelings into words and better communicate with others about your experience.
Talk with your health care team. If you notice sexual changes, tell your doctor or nurse. They may be able to ease some of the side effects of treatment. Being able to talk about these issues, in particular, may help you.
It might be helpful to talk to social workers, counselors, or other women in support groups. Your doctor or nurse may be able to refer you to someone.
Coping With Sexual Changes
After cancer treatment, one thing that can help you maintain or restore sexual energy is to focus on your physical recovery by eating a healthy diet and being active. This can help you feel better mentally and physically. Remember that your partner is also affected by your cancer, so talk about both of your feelings and fears. It can also help to explore different ways of showing love, such as hugging and holding, stroking and caressing, or talking. When you are being intimate, use these tips to help make the experience a positive one.
If your feelings about how your body looks keeps you from being intimate, use dim lights, wigs, lingerie, and other things to cover wounds or scars.
If needed, use a water-soluble lubricant (Astroglide, K-Y jelly, Lubrin) for intercourse when using condoms. If you are not using condoms, you can use water-based or silicone-based lubricants..
- Foster, Sara, RN, MPH
- MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician