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Sex and Cancer

Posted 2/20/2013

Posted in

  Ah, back to one of our favorite topics. This issue has been on my mind anyway as I have recently met several newly diagnosed women who are very distressed re the likely impact of breast cancer treatment on their sex lives. One is in her 30s, but the other two are decades older--so no quick judgments, please, about sex and aging. It is unfortunate, but true, that this issue is not so much discussed, especially in the beginning when all the conversation is about treatment choices and saving your life. Most of us would agree that staying alive is more important than having orgasms (as in, you can't have them anyway if you're dead--at least as far as we know), but most of us would also agree that intimacy is very important and quality of life must be considered and respected. It is also true that doctors are people, and many are less than fully comfortable talking about sex. This is partly due to individual comfort levels, but also due to the reality that there is not so much that they can offer, and doctors are trained to fix things.

  Cancer treatment pounds both libido and response for almost everyone. The reassuring news is that, over time, things do get better, and most women, most couples regain a satisying sex life. However, this improvement may take months after treatment, and, in the difficult months, it can be hard to stay positive and close. The most important suggestions are remembering that this is normal, talking about it with your partner (as in all things, communication is key), and holding on to a sense of humor. If sex feels out of the question, it is also important to find other ways to be close: shower together, snuggle on the couch, hold hands when walking--whatever helps maintain the wonderful intimacy that sustains a couple. If you are near Boston and want to come talk with me more about these issues, please do.

  This is a terrific essay from the New York Times; it is written by a young woman with cancer, and is directed mostly at women in their 20s and 30s. As I have been reminded over the past few weeks, this is not an age-specific concern, and women of all ages care a lot.


Life, Interrupted: Crazy, Unsexy Cancer Tips By SULEIKA JAOUAD


Every few weeks I host a "girls' night" at my apartment in Lower Manhattan with a group of friends who are at various stages in their cancer treatments. Everyone brings something to eat and drink, and we sit around my living room talking to one another about subjects both heavy and light, ranging from post-chemo hair styling tips, fears of relapse or funny anecdotes about a recent hospital visit. But one topic that doesn't come up as often as you might think -- particularly at a gathering of women in their early 20s and 30s -- is sex.

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