Sex and Cancer

An article I wrote for BHD in light of Breast Cancer Awareness month:

Image via: fotolog

“Excuse me doctor, but my vagina is exceptionally dry.”

Cancer treatments can lead to awkward conversations about sex and our private members. But talking about one’s sex life to an oncologist or a partner who is undergoing cancer treatments may not be the most comfortable conversation to start. Sex and cancer is that giant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge, but desperately needs to confront.

Women undergoing cancer treatments have voiced common complaints such as decreased libido, physical side effects such as increased dryness in their regions down south, and loss of attributes that help make them feel beautiful (hair and breasts). Many women suffering from these side effects are in their twenties and thirties – a prime age range for a roaring sex drive. Newly married and a recent cancer survivor, Claudia describes her sex life prior to cancer treatments as “incredible, it was all the time.” Unfortunately after treatments she now feels like she can “take it or leave it.” She’s afraid that although her husband never complains, “he’s going to get fed up at some point.”

If you or your partner is suffering from adverse cancer treatment side effects affecting your sex life, here are three ways to relight the fire:

1) Communicate. Open up and share your feelings. Chances are your partner has the same worries and fears that you have and wants to talk about them.


“Being a young couple it was kind of hard to open up. We kind of realized halfway through treatment that we both wanted to talk about sex. I didn’t really want to talk to him about it because I didn’t really know what to say and he didn’t want to make me feel like I was letting him down. (J).


“We really had to make sure that we were talking to each other and I knew how he was feeling through the whole thing. He told me he loved me no matter what and that I was beautiful no matter what. It’s good to hear that even if it’s hard to believe it.” (Kiersten)


2) Touch your partner. Don’t underestimate the power of touch. Hold your partner and explore your partner’s body with your hands or your lips. Find alternatives to sex. You don’t have to have sex to feel intimate.


“Apart from physically not being able to have sex, I was exhausted. Getting back rubs, having a cuddle, that’s as far as it went before I fell asleep” (J).


3) Lube it up. You don’t have to be turned on in order to have sex. Desire can follow minutes into foreplay. Invest in a good lubricant, if you or your partner is experiencing dryness.