Here’s how you and your boo thang can navigate intimacy + sexual pleasure during and after treatment.
Posted: December 7, 2021
Have you lost your mojo? Maybe you’re not-so-freaky in the sheets anymore, and that’s okay. Cancer changes our mind, body, and soul connection to intimacy and sex. And it’s not talked about enough.
Let’s be honest: cancer is the ultimate mindf*ck.
With or without a partner, pleasure takes a hit throughout seasons of our life, cancer treatment, or even isolation. This can all lead to shame and a breakdown in communication with our romantic partners. Not only that, but we often have body changes, scars, missing body parts, and treatment messing with our libido. What’s a sexual being to do?
Ask the doc — because they won’t ask you first.
Sorry, your doctors and nurses probably won’t be the first to bring up your sex life. Sure, they may ask you basic questions, like “Are you sexually active?” or “Have you ever had a sexually-transmitted infection?” However, they’re not going to address the specific issues that cancer can cause in the bedroom. This is where you need to put on your big-girl (or boy) lacey panties (or boxers) and ask first.
Be straightforward with your questions. Nothing’s off the table.
When discussing sex with medical experts, it's vital to use anatomically correct vocabulary (e.g., vulva and vagina, breasts, penis, erection) instead of slang terms (e.g., kitty or ding-dong). This can make it a much less awkward conversation and get you the help that you need.
Chat with your healthcare team to see what sexual activities are safe, as there might be certain things to avoid or side effects to be aware of depending on your situation. If you're having surgery or a particular treatment that will be affecting places like your breasts, sexual organs, or honestly any part of your body, talk to your doctor about a timeframe for resuming sexual activity. Other side effects of any type of cancer can impact how you feel emotionally and physically, such as weight changes, anxiety, fatigue, scars, and more.
Get your partner in on it, so there are no surprises.
Communicate these parameters with your partner and come up with a plan. You can still focus on pleasure and intimacy even when your body isn’t up for what it used to be.
If you find yourself needing help beyond what your regular doctors and nurses can provide, Sex therapy like Embrace Sexual Wellness is a great option for anyone needing a little guidance and a plan for how to get back into the swing of things.
Know the science about cancer and down there.
Chemo can change a whole lot about your body, including regular vaginal lubrication. Women can use water-soluble lubricants, which allow for more effortless movement with less friction (plus, it’s easy to wash off).
Take note that chemotherapy chemicals can be found in vaginal fluid or semen. A great way to protect against any odd reactions for your partner is by using protection such as a condom. The good news is that radiation or chemotherapy treatments do not put your partner in any harm. In short, if you’re able to have penetrative sex, use a condom, but don’t worry about giving radiation problems.
6 tips for sex-cess: here’s how to keep in tune with your sexuality when life isn’t so spicy.
1. Embrace sensuality.
Sensuality means a heightening of all senses, not just your sexual ones. Dr. Celeste Holbrook is a sexologist who uses the example of a baby exploring the world with heightened sensuality. They’re taking in smells, sounds, touch, tastes, and sights. Doing this can help you out sexually by being more in tune with your body and how it feels.
2. Love your body as it is (and it’s incredible).
You should know this by now: your body is a wonderland. You’re worthy of pleasure, even if the means for achieving it aren’t the same as “BC” (before cancer). Take the time and do the work to find your bod beautiful. The effort may entail positive affirmations in the mirror or even going through breathing and meditative resources like Breathe.Burn.Rise to work through trauma.
3. Explore and connect with your body through masturbation.
You may not know what you like with your new body or what brings pain. Before getting into a “sticky” situation with your partner, it may help explore on your own first. Use your hands or toys to listen to what brings pleasure or what you can tell your partner to avoid. Have fun with it!
4. Use clear communication about desire (or lack thereof).
Be honest with yourself and your partner about your libido changes. Don’t force sex if it’s not a good time for you. There are plenty of other ways to show romance without it.
Your partner doesn't want to hurt you, and they are probably a little scared too. Be honest about any pain or discomfort you have and say, “Hey, that's not working for me,” or “Let’s try this instead; it’s more comfortable for me.” Honesty and grace helps to avoid any bad feelings or mood-killers. Bonus points if you’re both able to have a sense of humor about this!
5. Conserve energy.
Take a note from your friendly neighborhood hippie and turn the faucet off when it’s not in use. Your energy is precious during and after treatment, so treat it as such. You know the saying: you can’t pour out of an empty cup.
Pro tip: Experiment with positions that require less energy or with methods of sexual pleasuring that require less movement and exertion. Hey, you may just find your new fave move.
Break out those toys or find a new kind you and your partner can both enjoy. The biggest thing to remember with trying new things in the bedroom is communication, communication, communication.
6. Just add water: get in the mood with a couple’s bath or shower.
Permission to turn this faucet ON. Turn up the heat in a hot bath or shower with your partner to make sex a little more fun. Maybe this will help you relax and give your body more openness to sensations.
Use shower time to explore each other's bodies, telling each other what you love about theirs. It can feel very vulnerable when your body is different from cancer — the scars, weight changes, and effects on your skin. Let your partner praise how you look and embrace the love. This is a journey that you’re on together.
Not into the slip-n-slide vibe? Opt for a sexy massage, complete with mood lighting and your favorite body oils. You may even incorporate supplements like CBD oil to help you get in the mood and heighten pleasure (we love the House of Wise SEX gummies or Foria’s Intimacy CBD lubricant).
There’s no denying the cancer journey makes finding pleasure a little more difficult. But it’s not impossible. This may just be the most exciting challenge yet.