Cancer and Sex Health

After cancer treatment, the physical and emotional aspects of sex can change. You and your partner might need to make some adjustments, but you can still enjoy intimacy.

Is it okay to have sex? Many women wonder whether it’s safe to have sex during or immediately after cancer treatment. Your doctor can best answer this question. If you’ve just had surgery, sex could pull at the stitches so it might be best to wait awhile. Unusual bleeding is another concern. Some cancer treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy, can interfere with your immune system and make you more susceptible to infections. Ask your doctor about any precautions you need to take.

Radiation. Some women who have radiation therapy worry that they can pass along radiation to their partner. Again, this is a concern best addressed by your doctor. Generally, if the radiation comes from a machine outside your body, no radiation remains in your body. So in this case, you wouldn’t be passing radiation along to your partner. However, radiation from a radioactive implant placed in your uterus or vagina can be passed along to your partner, so it’s best to ask your doctor when you can have sex again.

Talk to your partner. If changes in your sex life are troubling you, be sure to talk to your partner as well. Together, you and your partner can brainstorm ways to adjust your sexual repertoire. For example, if vaginal intercourse is uncomfortable, try oral sex or kissing and cuddling. You might also need more time to become fully aroused. If so, tell your partner what you need. Take advantage of that time to experiment and just enjoy each other.  Your partner might be nervous about sex, too, afraid of hurting you or doing something “wrong.”  If an activity hurts, by all means, say so. But if you miss an old activity or touch, let your partner know.

Consider therapy. Know that you are not alone. Depression and anxiety, common in breast cancer patients and survivors, can take a toll on your sex life as well. If you think you need help, consider therapy or a support group. Couples counseling and sex therapy may also help you work out changes in your relationship. Remember, your sex life was likely important to you before cancer. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be important now. Cancer and its treatment shouldn’t prevent you from having healthy, fulfilling sex.
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