Sexual Intimacy After Cancer

When cancer interferes with sex, it can create a lot of distress. Despite the many types of cancer and cancer treatments, most sexual problems after cancer fall into the following categories: 
  • Loss of sexual desire in men and women 
  • Trouble getting and keeping an erection for men 
  • Having pain with genital caressing or vaginal penetration for women
Ten suggestions to regain your desire for sex after cancer: 

1. If healthy exercise and nutrition help you feel less tired and reduce physical pain, it will also give you more energy to be in the mood for sex. 

2. If you think that you are depressed, see if short-term, specific counseling can help lighten your mood. People who are depressed often lose interest in sex. Although antidepressants can help your mood, and may be important for more serious depression, they can interfere with sexual desire and make it hard to reach orgasm (especially for women). If you can benefit from counseling and avoid medication, it would be ideal. 

3. Discuss with your doctor if the medication you take could decrease your desire for sex. You may be able to try a different version or lower your dose. 

4. If you are feeling unattractive, consider what you can do to feel better about your body and your looks. Pamper yourself with a bubble bath or a massage. Find some sexy lingerie to cover a surgical scar during lovemaking, or wear a nice scent. Try to lose some post¬-chemo weight by exercising and improving your diet. You do not have to work hard to feel sensual. 

5. Many men or women find they have distracting thoughts about cancer during sex that interfere with being able to relax and enjoy good physical feelings. You can try giving yourself the luxury of just focusing on your own sensations during lovemaking. Another way to let go of anxious thoughts about cancer, is to practice focusing on a detailed sexual fantasy. You don’t have to imagine sex with a movie star (although you can…) you can remember a time when sex with your partner was especially exciting or romantic. 

6. If you feel comfortable with self¬-touch or masturbation, take some time to relax in private, perhaps after a bath or shower. It may take some patience and practice to feel sexual pleasure again. 

7. If you are a man with an erection problem, see an urologist to explore medical treatment: pills, penile injections, or even surgery to have a penile prosthesis. For men, being able to have firm erections can be the biggest boost to interest in sex. 

8. If you are a woman who is having pain during sexual touching or intercourse, it is crucial to get some help. A first step is usually to use a vaginal moisturizer regularly and put lots of thin, water¬- or silicone- ¬based vaginal lubricant when you have sex. If your pain persists, see your gynecologist for help. 

9. If the problem with desire is focused on a loss of attraction between you and your partner, couples or individual counseling can help pinpoint what is going on. 

10. Not all doctors have experience with sexual intimacy. You may ask your doctor for a referral to a medical gynecologist with expertise in treating women who have had cancer or a urologist who specializes in helping men with erection problems.

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