Sex After Cancer: Loving Yourself Post-Treatment
Sex and cancer are two pretty huge taboos, and as with any taboos the impact of not being able to talk about them can have harmful consequences for those affected. That’s why we think it’s vital to discuss the ways in which cancer can affect your sex life. Whether you’re considering sex after cancer or you’re just about to begin treatment, we hope the following guide can help you understand some of the physical and psychological issues surrounding sex after cancer, as well as give you some helpful advice on how to reconnect with your body and enjoy pleasure post-treatment.
How cancer can affect your mind and body
From a purely psychological perspective, understandably a cancer diagnosis can have a huge impact on your mental health. Though naturally no single side effect happens to everyone, or affects everyone in the same way, it’s important to remember that anxiety and depression are common, both during and after cancer treatment, and these can have an impact on your relationships with lovers, or with your own body.
Then there are the physiological changes. Cancer – and cancer treatment – can cause a number of different side-effects that have an impact on your sex life and wellbeing. Cancer Research UK lists some of the possible effects including fatigue, pain, and changes to your appearance.
It may be that your treatment has affected the look and feel of some of your sexual organs – breast, prostate and cervical cancer (among others) – may impact your ability to have sex the way you used to. For instance, you may find that erection problems or issues with pain and scarring make it trickier for you to enjoy sex the way you used to.
Sex after cancer: how to reconnect with your body
The key thing to remember, as with all sex, is that every body is different. Your body may have been through changes as a result of treatment, and it could take you time to get used to them: if you want to get straight back to sex, we definitely won’t argue with that! But try not to put pressure on yourself to immediately go back to the kind of sex you had before. Take things slowly if you need to, and give yourself – both mentally and physically – time to adjust if you need it.
Communication is key too. Whenever your body or libido changes (whether due to cancer or any other significant medical or life change), taking the time to check in with your partner(s) is incredibly valuable, and can help you enjoy sex in a way that is more exploratory.
For example, if you’re finding penetrative sex after cancer painful, discussing this with your partner and identifying some ways to get sexual pleasure together without penetration. We have some great tips for sex without penetration here on the blog! Mutual masturbation, frotting/touching, using sex toys: all these are fabulous ways to enjoy each others’ bodies. Trying out new positions or masturbation techniques together can also help you find new tricks that work for you.
If this sounds like a lot to begin with, don’t worry! Solo sex (aka masturbation) is a great way to begin exploring the ways in which your body responds to pleasure – without the pressure of feeling you have to ‘perform’ for a partner. If you’re finding it difficult to become aroused or enjoy your body, setting aside some time to play alone may help you ease into it. Sex toys can play an important role here too – vibrators can increase stimulation, and cock rings (vibrating or otherwise!) may be useful if you’re struggling with erection difficulties after your treatment. Toys like the PULSE SOLO LUX are specifically designed for use whether flaccid or erect, so trying out a toy like this may be a good way to ease back into orgasms during sex after cancer.
While we’re on the topic of orgasms, though, it’s worth pointing out that orgasms themselves can sometimes add a lot of pressure to sexual intimacy. Whether it’s pressure to give your partner an orgasm, or pressure to orgasm yourself, sometimes the ‘goal’ of having to achieve orgasm can add to stress and make it harder to relax into what you’re doing. If you’re having sex after cancer, this pressure piled on top of potential fatigue, pain and anxiety is definitely not the best recipe for a sexy time! Whether you’re having solo or partnered sex, one of the simplest ways to ease into the fun is to let go the pressure to have an orgasm (for either partner). Allow yourself to be intimate and close, and have sex with the aim of exploring pleasure rather than reaching an end goal.
Other resources on sex after cancer
We’re incredibly grateful to the fantastic charities Macmillan Cancer Support and Cancer Research UK for their fabulous advice on sex after cancer. If you’d like to find out more, or get specific information on post-treatment pleasure, visit either of the links below:
There is only so much we can ever cover in a blog post, and every individual will have a different experience with sex after cancer. Some may not be interested in sex at all, while for others it may be one of your key concerns about recovery. On top of that, your own relationships and the drives/desires of your partners will likely factor in to how you choose to explore your body after cancer treatment. If you’re finding these conversations difficult to have with a partner, or you’d like some more tailored support, there are many sex and relationship therapists who can help you.
Relate.org.uk is a UK charity which offers support on a tiered basis depending on what you earn.
ThePinkPractice.co.uk offers support – including sexual and couples counselling – for LGBT people.