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Sexuality and Intimacy

Many physical and psychological factors impact sexuality during cancer diagnosis and treatment. Sexuality and intimacy are an important aspect of ourselves and our relationships. Our team of experts in the Young Women with Cancer Program are here to help you achieve a "new normal" in your sexual relationship during and after cancer.

The stress of living with cancer and its treatment can be a strain on a couple’s relationship.  With so much time and energy taken up with appointments and managing family responsibilities, there is often no room for fun activities and “couple time” spent just being together.

Single people, too, changed by the experience, are often anxious about dating in the future.  Single patients often tell us that they feel less confident in the dating world, and may have concerns about entering new relationships after losing a breast, or with questions about fertility.

Intimacy Issues and Cancer

Surgery, chemotherapy and endocrine therapy all have the potential to impact how you feel about sex. Fatigue, nausea, and mood swings are just a few of the symptoms. For many women, the biggest change is in body image, which may have been altered by breast surgery and the loss of hair from chemotherapy. This can leave you feeling less comfortable with intimacy.

Hormonal changes can affect libido and sexual satisfaction. Young survivors who have had their ovaries removed or who are in menopause following chemotherapy, tend to have more sexual dysfunction than their older counterparts. Women on endorine therapy often experience vaginal dryness, painful intercourse and difficullty achieving orgasm.

Talk with your Doctor

It is important to talk to your partner and provider about the difficult issues you are facing. Often there are strategies or suggestions that can be helpful. In some instances medical changes can be made in the face of serious sexual side effects.

Your partner will need to understand what has changed for you now, body and soul.  Time for communication about some of these difficult issues will help create intimacy between the two of you, and you may learn some unexpected things about how each of you has processed this experience.  Finding  time to do simple things as a couple, or even taking “a weekend off from cancer” and leaving it all behind, can do a world of good in helping you find your way into survivorship together. 

Your provider, too, will need to know what issues you are facing during treatment. Research tells us that it is often the patient who initiates this conversation, so if your provider does not bring it up, don’t be afraid to mention it.  Just because you may have a serious diagnosis and intense treatments does not make intimacy concerns unimportant.

It may help to learn that you are not alone in some of the side effects that you are experiencing.  Often, there are strategies or suggestions that we can share that other patients have found helpful. Sometimes, medication changes can be made in the face of serious sexual side effects. Our Sexual Health and Wellness Consultation Service provides consultation with a clinical psychologist who specializes in helping survivors cope with the adjustments of living with cancer and enhance their intimate relationships. You can be seen with your partner or individually, and your nurse navigator can help you set up an appointment.

We recognize that your relationships are an important part of your life, and are here to help you live well with those you love for many years to come!