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Learning About Cancer and Sexuality

What is common when you have cancer?

Sexuality is personal. It can enrich the connection you have with your body and with a partner. Having cancer changes the relationship you have with your body. As that changes, so does your sense of sexuality.

It's common to find that cancer treatment gets in the way of sexuality. And after cancer treatment, it can take time to trust your body and get to a "new normal."

If you have a partner, you may have very different needs during these tough times. Communication can help you get through this together.

How does cancer affect sexuality?

When you have cancer, don't be surprised if you don't feel sexual or interested in sex. Physically and emotionally, a lot can get in the way of desire, arousal, and orgasm. Even on a good day, you may be carrying a lot of stress. You may be grieving over the changes in your body. And when you're feeling sick or worn down from treatment, it can dampen any desire or sensuality you might normally have.

All this may make you wonder if anyone can understand what you're going through. But the fact is that you're not alone. There are other people with cancer who feel a lot like you do.

Cancer does not change the human need for kind and loving touch. At times, you may feel a strong need for this supportive, healing connection. At other times, you may feel the need to be left alone. If you have a partner, it helps when both of you understand this.

What can you expect?

It can take a long time to feel physically and emotionally well after cancer treatment. Keep in mind that you're heading toward a new normal.

Take time to think about your needs now and then. Ask yourself such things as:

  • "Do I need kind, loving, or healing touch?" If so, seek it out. Allow yourself to receive more than you give, whether it's from a partner, a friend, a family member, or someone trained in massage or another healing art.
  • "Do I need more support?" If so, reach out to friends, family, a counsellor, your doctor, or anyone who brings positive energy to your life.
  • "How do I want to build a positive connection with my body?" Think of what makes you feel good. It can be anything from self-massage in a warm tub to yoga to daily time outdoors.

If you have a partner, think about how to tend to your relationship. Perhaps set aside some extra time together. This can be a time for talking, sharing, and maybe finding new ways to enjoy each other.

If and when you're ready to be more sexual, talk to your doctor if you have any problems. It's common to have trouble with arousal or other physical changes from cancer treatment. Medical treatment or counselling—or both—can help.

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