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Cancer and Sexuality – Catriona Boffard

Sexual Health and cancerThe one topic that is repeatedly ignored by most healthcare professionals when treating any patient for a serious illness, especially cancer, is that of sexuality. Not matter if you’ve just been diagnosed, you’re undergoing treatment, or you have completed treatment and are trying to figure out the new normal, this fundamental part of life is almost always overlooked. Diagnosis and treatment can affect the physical, leading to emotional repercussions for the individual and often their partner too. Treatment can damage parts of our body that have a central role in arousal, affect our libido, ability to climax, and affect our fertility. Not feeling like sex, not being able to get aroused, or feeling anxious you may not be able to, can actually lead to not getting aroused or reaching orgasm; which ultimately can cause you to avoid sex all together! The effects on your sexual experience ultimately depend on certain factors, such as previous sexual concerns, type of cancer and thus required treatment, one’s age, one’s emotional well-being prior to diagnosis etc. However, here are a few things you can and should be doing that can help improve the outcome of your sexual experience.

Start practicing mindfulness
Mindfulness is any conscious activity that brings your awareness into the present moment, with curiosity and openness to your experience, non-judegmentally. What this means is that you pay attention to exactly what you are experiencing right now, without thinking about its deeper meaning. Mindfulness has been found to improve cognitive functioning during chemotherapy and improve coping skills to negative thoughts, distressing emotions, bodily sensations and feelings. Bringing your awareness to the present moment is not easy, especially when you’re trying to adjust to changes in your body caused treatment. Quality of life is impacted greatly by fatigue, and this in particular can affect our desire and interest in sex. It also interfers with our readiness for sex and our ability to enjoy our sexual experience. By practicing mindfulness daily, the improvement is evident in several areas of life, not just sex and intimacy. The fatigue, low mood and sleep disruption that is often associated with treatment has also been found to improve when mindfulness is practiced.

Use it or lose it
‘On-demand’ sexual functioning is should be easier if you are regularly sexual, by yourself or with a partner. The more sexually active you are, the easier you’ll find sex and the more you’ll feel like sex. You don’t always have to have full-blown intercourse! Couples can kiss, touch, stroke and create sexual intimacy and emotional connection through experiences that don’t involve penetration or that aren’t so tiring. It’s crucial though to talk to your health care provider about when you can attempt and resume sex following treatment.

Talk, ask, explore
Couples who talk about their sex life have been found to have more sex, and by talking about it, you’ll be more comfortable to share your concerns with your partner if you are diagnosed with cancer. Please don’t shy away from any questions about your sexual functioning and your sex life with your doctor. Ask any and all questions – there is nothing that they haven’t heard before or can’t explore with you! It’s also a foundation to keeping the conversation open in your relationship, which often gets impacted by the experiences and side effects associated with such a diagnosis.

If you’d like to read more about Catriona Boffard, head to her website.

About Catriona Boffard

Catriona Boffard

Catriona Boffard is a Sexologist, Cognitive-Behavioural Therapist, Sexuality Researcher & Educator and Author. She is a globally recognized authority on sex, and has delivered her expert advice on TV, radio, corporate and public platforms. She is an expert in the field of sexual behaviour and well-being, with a particular interest in helping couples reestablish their sexual intimacy and empowering women to embrace their sexuality. She works from a biopsychosocial perspective; assessing and treating clients through an integrative approach which explores the physiological, psychological and social factors behind their concerns.

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