Sex and Intimacy After Cervical Cancer

Summary: The development and treatment of cervical cancer can alter the way a woman is used to dealing with intimacy and sexual activity. It is important to remember that all of the feelings that come along with the treatment of cervical cancer are normal and very common. Mental and physical changes can immediately alter what a woman is used to when it comes to intimacy and sexual activity. It is important to remember that communication can help you and your partner better understand and work through the situation to be able to find your pleasure and personal intimacy once again. Working to maintain your vaginal health after your treatment will become a vital part of your daily routine. Here you can learn the basic at-home methods for helping restore your vaginal health after cervical cancer treatment.

Upon hearing your cancer diagnosis, your sex life was most likely not the first thing you thought of. More than likely you thought of your family, your life, and felt the fear of trudging through the next steps of the process and treatment. But the truth is, cervical cancer and other types of cancer can alter and change the way your body functions and finds pleasure.

In a study done on a group of women, ninety-percent surveyed said that they had experienced a significant change in their sex life as a result of their cervical cancer. Half of those women were not satisfied with how their sex lives were currently going. While certain physical issues may need medical intervention to correct, there are many things that can be done to help you in the intimacy and sexual activity area. Many of the things that can help with your sex life can help with lubrication, pain, discomfort, or learning an entirely new way to find pleasure. Some of these things are easy and some require patience and empowering yourself with the knowledge to know how.

Because sex is still such a taboo subject, it is important to remember that intimate and sexual wellness is part of our whole being. When we deny ourselves the intimacy, we so much need and deserve, we withhold the vital parts of life that make us who we are. Humans are designed to need, crave and benefit from intimacy of all kinds. Women facing cervical cancer often deny themselves of their intimate and sexual desires because of the bodily changes and difference in sexual behaviors they had before their cancer treatment.

Denying ourselves this intimate and close connection with people can cause more stress on the body, thusly prolonging the healing process and possibly causing more medical side effects and issues to deal with. Remember that sex is not simply the act of intercourse. For some people, the actual act of sex is not involved at all. Because intimacy and sex are also mental activities, it can be harder for some to settle in to the moment than others. Other things that can affect your intimate and sex life is emotional situations, uncomfortable social situations, difficult or new personal situations, culture struggles, and of course the physical aspects of your illness.

Changing Feelings with Intimacy and Sex After Cervical Cancer

There are many things that can change your feelings towards intimacy and sex, like:

-Your treatments may be affecting how you view and connect with your own body. This can cause a disconnect and a feeling of general disgust for some, wishing that their bodies would work as they did before cancer.

-Depending on where you are in your own cancer journey and treatment will definitely impact how you are feeling about intimacy and sexual activity.

-Your physical ability to be intimate, and on which level. Surgery and reconstruction can completely hinder the possibility of physical action until your doctor has signed off and said that sexual activity is once again allowed.

-Your relationship may be stressed, going through changes, or has completely changed during your cancer journey. It is normal to have times of sexual and intimate activity and times where nothing is really happening. The fear of your new body and stress it brings can also cause you to begin avoiding forms of intimacy for multiple reasons. Some of those reasons could include poor body image, malfunctioning body you feel is ‘gross,’ the fear of rejection, and the fear of change or disappointment. Changes in your life, medical, emotional or otherwise can indeed cause issues within your sex life. Remember that communication is often the best way to ensure that you and your partner are on the same page about your wants and needs.

How Treatment Affects the Sexual Response

A “normal” sexual response is what happens to your body during your intimate and sexual encounters. Many people find that the things that brought them pleasure and calm before cancer no longer work or respond in the same way, which immediately forces them out of their comfort zones.

The stages of arousal include the desire and willingness to participate, beginning arousal, readiness or the plateau, satisfaction or orgasm, and resolution. These stages are always present, as this is how our bodies were designed. Certain cervical cancer treatments can affect how and when those different levels overlap and ‘reach’ each other. In some cases, this can be why a woman cannot reach climax after cervical cancer surgery. At any time during the treatment of and life with cancer, these factors can interrupt the stages of arousal.

Specifically, women deal with discomfort with sore tissues and muscles after surgical treatment. Cancer treatments in the cervix can cause tightening and the atrophy of the vaginal canal and cervix if left ignored. There are many home therapies you can discuss with your doctor about how to keep your vaginal canal open and functioning after your treatment. Here are some of the methods that might be prescribed to you:

  • Dilator therapy. In order to help keep the vaginal canal pliable, open and functioning, it is best to begin a routine therapy with dilators. These are designed to be worn in the vaginal canal for certain amounts of time, multiple times per week. By beginning with the smallest size, and slowly advancing, this helps to stretch and work the tissues and muscles most affected by the treatment. Reclaiming Intimacy offers two amazing kits to help get you started! The Reclaiming Intimacy Rejuvenate set has three specially made dilators with easy-hold handles. The Reclaiming Intimacy Revitalize set has two varying sized dilators with a small vibrator that fits into the dilator itself to help ease muscle tension and nerves with use. The vibration also helps to calm and relax tense tissues and muscles.
  • Kegel exercise. Kegel exercises are done very easily in the privacy of- wherever you are! This is done by utilizing the same muscles that you use to start and stop your urine flow repeatedly for certain amounts of time, multiple times per week. Once you get the hang of doing these exercises, it can be beneficial to use Kegel balls when you do them to help rebuild your vaginal strength and elasticity. The weighted balls are designed to be slipped just inside of the vaginal canal and held in place as long as you can. Reclaiming Intimacy offers Strengthen for this purpose!
  • Replenishing moisture. After your treatments, you might notice that your natural moisture has long gone and left you reeling with dry, cracking tissues that are sore to any sort of touch. This kind of discomfort can be very disheartening and cause undue stress. There are numerous options to help restore natural moisture from prescriptions to more natural, holistic approaches. Reclaiming Intimacy’s Lustrous is the perfect daily use moisture replenishing lubricant.

Key Changes that Affect Sex and Intimacy after Cervical Cancer

The most often reported things from patients that affect sex and intimacy after cervical cancer treatment and surgery are loss of desire, arousal difficulty, loss of sexual satisfaction, difficulty orgasming, and sexual pain. These are incredibly common with multiple types of cancer, and if you are experiencing them, do not hesitate to reach out to your doctor or medical care team to find resources in your area to help get you back on the right track.

The changes taking place inside of your body and to your cervix and reproductive area can cause immediate mental and physical depression. Do not be afraid of the changes that you may face. Instead, arm yourself with as much information as you can find about all of the new ways you will be able to be intimate and find pleasure again.

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Resources Used:

ACS

NIH

Reclaiming Intimacy

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