Sexuality After Cancer

Cobie Whitten

Sexual images are everywhere, woven into our daily lives through the airwaves and print media.  Sometimes it feels like cancer is also everywhere, from movie stars to sports heroes to neighbors. Yet, sexuality and cancer are not two words you often see together (unless it is to describe possible side effects from cancer and its treatment).

After a diagnosis of cancer, one may want to literally and metaphorically roll over and just go to sleep.  As one breast cancer survivor tells it, “I am just grateful to be alive, the last thing on my mind is having sex. Besides, after what my body has endured, I cannot imagine my husband wanting to have sex with me.”

Cancer patients often say that no matter how much support they receive; cancer is a very lonely experience. But, consider this ... When I taught college students, I used to tell them, “Be careful who you have sex with because you very well could fall in love with them.” The very hormones and chemicals that are released during sex are the same chemicals and hormones that make us feel attached and less alone. So even if intercourse is not possible, other forms of intimacy can be gratifying and health promoting.

There are excellent and sometimes very amusing (see Prince & the Gun Oil by Deborah Jarvis) resources on sexuality after cancer. There are also therapists trained to help cancer patients deal with sexual issues. You may have lost parts of your physical self due to cancer. Do not assume that your sexual self must be sacrificed also. The most critical body part for sexual satisfaction?  Your mind.   

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