Sex after Cancer Once Again

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

APRIL 20, 2018

  Once again, an excuse to return to one of everyone's favorite topics: sex after cancer. Also once again, the short summary is that a cancer diagnosis and treatment always impacts one's sexuality and intimate relationship, but there is no reason why that important part of life has to end. There are physical changes due to chemotherapy or radiation or surgery, and there are the equally important psychological changes related to the trauma of the experience. Having (or having had) cancer is never a sexual plus. You will never see a personal statement that says something like: I like red wine, walking on the beach at dawn, and I had lots of cancer treatment.

  My professional experience has been that loving couples find ways to sustain this part of their connection, and that is far from impossible for single people to reconnect after cancer. Returning to the dating scene is never easy, and cancer adds new dimensions of concerns. What do I say? When do I say it? There are really important changes (e.g. the loss of fertility or the ability to carry a pregnancy) and less important ones (e.g. it takes longer to become aroused). Nothing needs to be said on a first or second date, and I am assuming that most of us are past the stage of hook ups. I always tell my patients that they need to share their history become a relationship becomes physically intimate. If there are obvious scars or other body changes (and a big one could be a mastectomy with or without reconstruction or a bag of some kind). you need to say so before the clothes come off. I suggest to people that they try to be as clear as possible, give a description. You want to avoid, for you both, a moment of shock when your changed body is displayed. 

  And now for the reassuring part: Over and over and over again, I hear lovely stories about new potential partners responding in tender ways to this information. I have, of course, head a few stories about someone vanishing. There are creeps in the world, and the best perspective on this possibility is that someone who disappears upon learning about your cancer history is not someone who you want as loving, long-term partner anyway. I have heard a few poignant stories about a man saying: "My wife died of breast cancer, and I just can't think about that possibility again." This is hurtful, of course, but it is also understandable. I have also heard stories of men who say: "My wife died of breast cancer, so I know a lot about it. I wish I had known you an could have helped through it." 

  Today's article is from WebMD and has some potentially helpful tips for regaining one's sexual life after cancer There probably isn't anything here that you haven't heard before, but it is always useful to have a chance to consider the subject again. Here is the start and a link to read more:

Your Sex Life After Cancer Treatment

After cancer treatment, your sex life may be a little different than it used to be. You may not be in the mood as often, and physical side effects can leave you feeling self-conscious. For instance, you may lose your hair, or your weight may change. Or you may have trouble controlling your bladder or bowels.

While some effects of cancer treatment go away quickly, others can linger for months or years. If you’ve been treated for prostate cancer, you may find it harder to get or keep an erection. Women who’ve had radiation or hormone therapy may have intense vaginal dryness that makes sex painful.

But there’s no need to swear off sex. It’s still important to feel good about your body and be close to someone you love.

With a little patience, you can make your sex life as satisfying as ever. (Note here from Hester: I think this is true as is stands, but it is not entirely straight forward. I think it is a rather unusual person who can duplicate a pre-cancer sex life. The new one indeed may be just as satisfying and maybe even more loving, but it probably will be different.)


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