Let's Talk About Sex, Baby
Posted: February 7, 2022
Sex is a major part of life, right? So why don’t we talk about it more?
Sexuality isn’t only about the act itself. The American Cancer Society breaks it down: Sexuality includes how you see, feel, and think about yourself as a sexual being. The way you show it through your actions, behaviors, and relationships all play a role. It’s personal! And it’s different for everyone. Sometimes, it’s also called sexual health.
Here at buddhi, we believe that it’s just as important to address the side effects of cancer diagnosis and treatment that pop up in the bedroom (or don’t.. too soon?) as any other side effects. So let’s talk about sex, ba-by!
We don’t talk about it enough, but trauma associated with The Big C sometimes affects our sex lives in real consequential ways that will compound with time if left unaddressed.
The scars cancer leaves behind are both literal and figurative, and oftentimes lead to concerns around body image, a sense of insecurity, and self-doubt. You may start to feel different within yourself or stop seeing yourself as a sexual being, and then that thing that a lot of us love so much can be one of the things that quickly goes down the drain.
Whether you are in a relationship, happily single, or ready to mingle (we see you!), we want to make sure you heal this incredibly vital part of being alive and get your freak on when you are ready.
We also want to make sure you’re prepared. Sex after treatment for the Big C can become drastically different than it was before. Sex drives, especially, are greatly reduced. And body image? That can go straight out the window, too. Cancer anywhere in your body can suck the fun out of your sex life, but reproductive cancers are notorious for it.
“A study accessing psychoeducational interventions among women with gynecologic cancer found that women reported their sexual side effects to be the most distressing aspect of their cancer treatment.” (Brotto et al., 2008). Meanwhile, a survey published at Medscape reports almost a third of men who’ve undergone treatment for prostate cancer say that the resulting impacts on their sex lives have had the worst impact on their overal quality of life. Not only can this be difficult to talk about, but it’s frustrating AF. Breast cancer is no exception, with as many as 70% of survivors reporting sexual difficulties as a result of their treatment. (Den Ouden et al., 2019)
The numbers might seem discouraging, but don’t give up before you’re ready, bud.
“Sex, sexuality, and intimacy are just as important for people with cancer as they are for people who don’t have cancer. In fact, sexuality and intimacy have been shown to help people face cancer by helping them deal with feelings of distress when going through treatment.” -The American Cancer Society
The unfortunate reality is that your sex organs, sexual desire (aka your sex “drive” or libido), sexual function, overall well-being, body image, and the way you show your sexuality can all be affected, according to experts at the American Cancer Society.
It’s normal to face a difference in libido, especially, after you’ve undergone such a harrowing journey. Your body has been changed and gone through traumas that many people can barely understand. Be kind to yourself, and be sure to communicate with any important partners about how you feel. Let them know what to expect, and that a little experimentation may be in order.
“For example, if you aren't comfortable with someone touching your breasts, or there is a loss of sensation, and that was a big part of your experience before, it's important not to feel defeated or discouraged. Acknowledge the loss – because it truly is a loss – and refocus on other parts of the body that still have a lot of sensation. Taking time to get comfortable and explore your body without feeling panicky is a very important part of the process. Negotiate with your partner about what feels OK and what doesn't, which may mean a new idea of foreplay.” – Dana Farber Cancer Institute
Communication is going to be one of the biggest key factors in approaching this topic effectively, but you can do it, bud.
It goes without saying that sexual health needs to be incorporated into cancer thrivers’ care more systemically. For now, we’ll have to help bridge the gap ourselves.
Here’s the deal – your care team likely isn’t going to be the one to bring this topic up. Whether you’ve just been diagnosed, are currently in treatment or in recovery, it’s important (and never too late!) to open up the convo and chat about anything that’s on your mind. You’ll feel a whole lot better after, and will be more confident bringing it up again in the future.
Feelings around sexual distress during and after treatment are very common. Don’t suffer in silence just because no one talks about it!
Believe it or not, your biggest sex organ is your brain – not your genitals – so tuning into your mindset can be incredibly rewarding. Incorporate Emily Fletcher’s Ziva technique of the 3 M’s: mindfulness, meditation, and manifesting to help get more in tune with your body. When you better understand what will help you feel comfortable and safe, it’s easier to communicate that to a partner.
Talking to your care team, your significant other, or even someone you just started dating are all different experiences. Yet with each of them, it’s important to build trust and have open lines of communication with whoever you’re bracing this topic with.
Finding it hard to talk about out loud?
We’ve been there. We’ve found that reading and writing help in this department, especially when connecting with others who have gone through this!
“The bottom line is that if sex is different from the way it was before and it causes distress, then it deserves care. A lot of patients brush off sexual issues because they're so thankful to be alive, but quality of life is incredibly important.” – Dana Farber Cancer Institute
Therapy’s an option we often recommend for cancer related trauma, and sexual difficulty is no exception. If you find yourself needing extra support, Embrace Sexual Wellness offers specialized psychotherapy to help you find your spark again. Their website also features a compilation of books, websites, and videos to help you navigate the new and exciting world that is sex during and after cancer.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself and your mental health, bud.
Yes, partners are often an important part of sexuality, but you are the most important aspect of this journey. So, head over to our self-care and dating after cancer articles for additional resources.