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Enjoying sex after cervical cancer

Enjoying sex after cervical cancer | Jo Divine

Every year in the UK, over 3,000 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Having undergone treatment for cervical cancer, the thought of having sex may be the last thing on your mind, but for some women, sexual intimacy and pleasure plays an important part in their relationships.

Undergoing surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy may affect the way in which you now view your body and your sexuality, in addition to affecting your relationships, both physically and emotionally. This can impact upon your sexual desire and arousal, as well as your ability to have penetrative sex and reach orgasm.

Younger women who have cancer can experience a surgical or medical menopause, which can affect their sex lives. Coping with a cancer diagnosis and going through debilitating treatment, to be left with a low or no libido and physical symptoms, is life changing. Some women are sadly infertile after treatment, impacting further upon their health. However there are ways in which to overcome menopausal symptoms that affect your sex life.

If you find you are experiencing sexual problems, talk to your doctor or clinical nurse specialist (CNS) who can offer you advice or refer you for psychosexual counselling.

Rethinking the ways in which you enjoy sexual intimacy and pleasure through self help can help you to continue to enjoy a good sex life, or even experience a better one!

It is important to realise that getting back to sex after treatment is a gradual process and cannot be rushed. Taking your time and going at your own pace will ensure a greater success at returning to normal sexual activity. Also having a supportive partner can speed up the recovery process too.

Great sex without intercourse

The act of sex is more than just sexual intercourse, so consider the way in which you enjoy sexual intimacy and pleasure if coital sex isn’t possible to begin with or in the future.

A study by Ussher et al (2013) explored renegotiation of sex in people with cancer and their partners, and found that 70% of the participants reported the exploration of non coital sexual practices such as masturbation, mutual genital touching or oral sex and considered these to be just as satisfying as coital sex.

Renegotiating non-coital sex includes:

*Communication: Talking to each other about sexual concerns and finding ways in which to overcome them.
*Embracing intimacy: cuddling, kissing, non coital touching, massage, spending time together, caring or talking to each other
*Exploration: exploring non coital sexual practices, such as masturbation, mutual genital touching or oral sex
*Using sexual or medical aids such as vibrators, lubricants, dilators, male sex toys.

Talk to your partner

This is important in any relationship, not just after cancer. The way in which you communicate with each other can affect your relationship: often, one partner will highlight a problem or issue that the other partner has never considered or may consider to be trivial. It is not always easy to talk about sex, but finding the right environment for both of you is essential. You need to consider how you share sexual pleasure and what has changed within your relationship.

Being honest about how you feel will help you both to overcome any sexual difficulties together. Your partner may be worried about hurting you during sex, whereas you may be anxious about them no longer desiring you.

Enjoying sexual intimacy

Even if you don’t feel sexual, you can still enjoy intimacy by cuddling, kissing and touching each other. Snuggling up on the sofa or in bed can feel so good and may lead to more intimate touching.

Some women feel uncomfortable being naked in front of their partner or feel discomfort when touched by their partner, either on the site of their surgery due to scarring or as a result of chemotherapy and drug therapy which can make these parts of the body sensitive or painful. Just cuddling together can create feelings of intimacy between you, even if you don’t feel sexual.

Many couples consider intimacy, including cuddling, kissing, non genital touching, massage, spending time together, caring and talking to be more important than penetrative sex. Often, some couples realise that intimacy did not play a part in their relationship prior to cancer and enjoy discovering it after treatment.

Keeping the intimacy going between you can help you get through this period until you feel that your sexual desire is returning. However, if you continue to feel like this for a longer period of time or it’s affecting your relationship, seek medical advice.

Difficulty in sexual arousal

This can occur as a result of surgery, drug therapy or psychological barriers, preventing you from enjoying sexual pleasure. You also may be taking medication which can decrease sexual libido and can affect your ability to become aroused, such as oral contraception and antidepressants, so speak to your doctor about changing to an alternative with less side effects.

Talking to a psychosexual therapist can enable you to find ways to increase your sexual arousal, such as mindfulness and visualisation.

Focus on ways which help you become aroused such as mutual masturbation using lubrication and sex toys, reading erotic fiction, watching a naughty film together, and light bondage.

Spend longer enjoying foreplay, savouring the sensation of each other’s body.

Men are highly visual and become aroused by just watching so have fun together using a vibrator- invest in a male sex toy to increase his pleasure too.

Painful sex

Sex should never be painful and if it is, stop.

Often lack of arousal can be a problem so spend time enjoying foreplay, using a good lubricant for mutual masturbation and intimate touch. Concentrate on kissing, and not just on the lips!

Hormonal changes as a result of surgical or drug induced menopause can lead to vaginal dryness, which in turn causes painful sex. Always use a lubricant, such as YES organic lubricant, which nourishes the delicate tissues of the genital area, making the walls of the vagina more lubricated.

Hormonal creams can also help.

Post operative scarring can cause vaginal tightness and loss of sensation which may cause discomfort or pain. Medical dilators tend to be the treatment of choice by healthcare professionals but combining both a dilator and a slim vibrator with plenty of lubricant can offer more benefits.

Some women prefer to use medical dilators to treat their condition rather than a vibrator which they consider to be sexual.

However, many women prefer to use a vibrator that feels less clinical. Using a vibrator can help a woman feel sexual again after undergoing months, if not years of medical treatment and surgical intervention and is a way to enjoy sexual pleasure and intimacy again.

Both medical dilators and vibrators are great to use in conjunction with each other as they offer different experiences. Medical dilators can help to stretch the tight tissues of the vagina whilst a slim vibrator, such as Picobong Zizo, OMB Cuddle OMB Discover and Slinky Pinky can promote blood flow to the healing tissues and feel pleasurable too, especially on the clitoris. Clitoral stimulation can help you to relax, making insertion of medical dilators easier.

Inability to reach orgasm

You may find it more difficult or that it takes longer to orgasm as a result of diminished sexual sensation so using a sex toy can help, for solo enjoyment or couples’ play.

As 70% of women orgasm through clitoral stimulation, try a small bullet style vibrator or clitoral stimulator on your clitoris during foreplay or sexual intercourse to increase your sexual stimulation. A strong body massager, such as the Doxy produces powerful vibrations, ideal when you have decreased sensation in your clitoris.

Tell your partner how and where you like to be touched as you may feel discomfort being touched in certain areas, guiding them to the exact spot and using the right amount of pressure.

Using a G-spot vibrator can help you to enjoy vaginal orgasms if you are unable to have one during penetrative sex- explore your body with a sex toy to discover new found sexual sensations.

Invest in a sex toy for your partner so they can enjoy the fun too! OhMiBod Share is a vibrating cock ring that stimulates the clitoris at the same time, so double the pleasure for both of you!

Couples’ toys are fun too!

Although considered to be the end result of sex, having an orgasm isn’t always the most important part of sex play so if you find you are unable to orgasm, switch off the chatter in your head and just concentrate on all the pleasurable sexual sensations running through your body.

Don’t give up your sex life after cervical cancer because there is always a way to enjoy sexual intimacy and pleasure- you just need to become more imaginative and creative with your sex play, incorporating ideas that you have never used before.

So try something new and discover fantastic sexual intimacy and pleasure.

At Jo Divine we believe that sexual health and sexual pleasure go hand in hand and have created a health brochure with suitable products to help people with sexual issues. Working with medical professionals, we hope to encourage patients and HCPs alike in talking more freely about sexual problems. A health issue doesn’t mean your sex life will have to stop!

Useful Websites

Eve Appeal : www.eveappeal.org.uk/gynaecological-cancers/ovarian-cancer
Jo’s Trust : www.jostrust.org.uk

Dr Louise Newson, menopause specialist : www.menopausedoctor.co.uk
The Daisy Network- www.daisynetwork.org.uk- charity for premature ovarian insufficiency
British Menopause Society- thebms.org.uk
Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology- www.rcog.org.uk
Menopause Support : menopausesupport.co.uk
Henpicked : www.henpicked.net
Cervical Screening : www.cervicalscreen1.wordpress.com
Cancer and Fertility : www.cancerandfertility.co.uk This has been set up by Becki McGuinness who was left infertile by aggressive cancer treatment when she was just 23-years-old. Now 30, she’s launching a national campaign to ensure women facing cancer are given all the fertility options she should have had

I spoke at the Daisy Network conference about sexual intimacy and pleasure in June 2017

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