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Enjoying Sex after Ovarian Cancer

Enjoying Sex after Ovarian Cancer | Jo Divine

Many women believe that having ovarian cancer means their sex life has to end, but this doesn’t have to happen to you. By making simple changes to the way you engage in sexual pleasure and intimacy you can continue to enjoy great sex.

Often women who did not enjoy sexual intimacy before they were diagnosed with cancer are happy to refrain from having sex, which may or may not create problems within their relationships. However, for many women, sex is an important part of their lives which they enjoy with their partner, and they want to continue having pleasurable sexual intimacy.

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 you can overcome sexual symptoms of the menopause.

More advice is needed for younger women about their fertility and what options are available to them to preserve their fertility. This is often overlooked or considered an afterthought when younger women have a cancer diagnosis but being unable to have children affects both your physical and mental health, which in turn, impacts upon recovery and quality of life post treatment.

A new Psycho-Oncology analysis of the published literature (2017) indicates that many cancer patients are not receiving support for fertility sparing choices or advice and recommends that all cancer patients of reproductive age should be provided with fertility information and referrals for fertility preservation. One of the reasons is that oncologists oncology may lack appropriate fertility knowledge and be unsure whose role it is to provide fertility support.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists published a scientifc paper about Fertility Sparing Treatments in Gynaecological Cancer (February 2013) offering options for women undergoing gynaecological cancer treatment and surgery.

Experiencing sexual problems after ovarian cancer is extremely common but by talking to your partner, oncology nurse specialist or doctor, you can find ways in which to overcome sexual difficulties through simple changes to the way in which you have sex.

Why don’t I feel like having sex?

Having your ovaries removed can push you into a surgical menopause, bringing on symptoms often experienced during the menopause. Not every woman will experience the same symptoms and some may be affected to a greater extent than others.

The stress of having a cancer diagnosis, then undergoing surgery to remove your ovaries and cancer treatment is extremely stressful and this can impact upon your sex life. For younger women, treatment may mean they are unable to have children or any more children, creating anxiety and stress.

Discussing all your fertility options prior to treatment is important such as freezing your eggs or egg donation and your consultant or Oncology Nurse Specialist will be able to offer help and advice as to what you can do.

A decrease in sexual libido can affect your desire to have sex and it is completely normal to not want to have sex or even sexual intimacy, but discussing how you feel with your partner can help them understand what you are going through and enable them to support you during this time. They may have their own feelings of anxiety or confusion about what you are going through and might avoid sex to prevent causing you pain.

Wanting to have sex can depend on your general health and recovery from cancer, your relationship with your partner, your levels of stress, fatigue and your body image confidence.

The act of sex is more than just “sexual intercourse”, but many healthcare professionals and patients are of the opinion that coital sex is the norm and anything else is just a poor substitute.

Sexual pleasure is much more than “traditional penis-in-vagina sex”. Many couples experiencing sexual problems after cancer treatment find other ways in which to enjoy sexual intimacy. By being imaginative and rethinking the way in which they have sex, they are able to have fun on the way too!

Is sex intimacy the same as coital sex?

No, sexual intimacy and pleasure is whatever feels good for you. Sex isn’t just penetrative sex but includes:

  • Mutual touching, manual masturbation and oral sex. Often couples find that by spending more time enjoying foreplay when coital sex isn’t possible, they enjoy a greater level intimacy than they had before active treatment.
  • Intimate touch such as cuddling, massage, kissing and spending intimate time in each others’ company can be just as satisfying and important for some couples than the act of sex.
  • Using sex toys during sex play to increase sexual pleasure and intimacy- sex toys for both women and men are great during sex play, when non penetrative sex isn’t possible or you don’t feel like it. Trying new techniques and experiencing different sexual sensations can increase levels of intimacy. Choosing “his and her:articles/relationships/how-to-introduce-a-sex-toy-into-your-sex-play sex toys together can make sex more fun.
  • Talking intimately about how you feel can help you both find ways in which you can enjoy sexual pleasure. You may be surprised at what your partner is willing to try to enable you to both enjoy sexual pleasure and intimacy so be brave and start talking to each other. You may not want to jump from the wardrobe but incorporating a little light bondage or using a small sex toy in your sex play can be exciting.

Why does my vagina feel dry?

Having a dry vagina can happen to any women whether you have had cancer or not. Hormonal changes affect vaginal secretions throughout the month and during periods of stress, illness, disease, post pregnancy and during the menopause.

The myth that lubricants are only needed for “fixing” a sexual problem needs to be dispelled and women of all ages should be encouraged to use vaginal lubricants whenever they feel the need and to increase the sexual pleasure felt by both themselves and their partner.

A surgical menopause causes a decrease in the production of oestrogen, affecting the elasticity and vaginal secretions of the vagina. Using a good lubricant, such as YES organic lubricant, can make sex feel more comfortable and pleasurable for both men.

Skin safe, odourless and tasteless, YES organic lubricants are similar to your body’s natural lubricant and do not contain chemicals which may cause allergic reactions and genital irritation.

Avoid using products that are not designed for the vagina. Just because a food stuff can be eaten does not mean it is good for your vagina health

Some products designed as vaginal lubricants, even those available on prescription from your GP may cause vaginal irritation or infection as many contain glycerin which can cause thrush and alter the pH of the vagina.

Often recommended and prescribed by GPs and HCPs, KY Jelly and other waterbased products contains both parabens and glycerin, which can cause thrush. KY jelly also has a higher osmolality than the cells in the body, drawing moisture out of the walls of the vagina rather than hydrating them, exacerbating vaginal dryness, not helping it. This can leave the body vulnerable to infection, such as thrush which is often more prevelant after cancer treatment.

Why is sex painful?

Sex should never feel painful, but if it does, stop.

You may find it takes longer to become aroused or that you simply feel less well lubricated so take your time, enjoy longer foreplay or even make this the main event if penetration feels painful or uncomfortable.

Use plenty of lubricant, add more if you need it, wetter is always better whoever you are. You can pop it on before foreplay, as part of foreplay and enjoy an intimate massage or just apply it when you want to enjoy penetrative sex or when using a sex toy.

A slim vibrator, such as a Picobong Zizo, Lelo Liv and Slinky Pinky can really help if you have scar tissues or vaginal tightness following surgery or treatment. Used with lubricant, it can help promote healing of scar tissue by increasing the blood supply to the area. Gentle manipulation of the vibrator over the scarred area can help to stretch the tissue and make it feel less tight. It can also promote the production of vaginal secretions, lubricating the vagina and making it feel more comfortable.

Used on your clitoris it can help you to relax and it feels good too!

If you prefer not to use a vibrator, our Inspire Silicone Dilator Kit is incredibly soft and is a great way to ease vaginal tightness.

Sex beyond Penetration

If you are unable to have penetrative sex, you can still enjoy sexual pleasure through mutual masturbation, intimate touching and kissing.

Touch

A simple cuddle causes the release of oxytocin, a feel good hormone. When we’re sexually aroused, oxytocin levels increase significantly, a main factor in achieving an orgasm, which in turn, causes the release of more oxytocin.

A brief stroke on the back of the neck, along your arm, your ears, even in the palm of your hand can help you reconnect.The gentle breath on the back of your neck, a brush of the knee or feather like kiss on your hand can produce a sexual sensation as skin is one of the most erogenous zones in our body

Using the lightest of touch, being caressed or caressing your partner, even through clothing can sent pulses racing. However and wherever you enjoy being touched, finding your own erogenous zones is fun and will increase your sexual stimulation, so start exploring

Tell your partner where and how you would like to be touched, or even guide their hand so they know how to touch you and what pressure they can use if your genitals feel sensitive to touch.

Sensory Deprived Sex

Our sense of touch, hearing, smell and taste are all heightened by sight deprivation. Not knowing what is coming next increases sexual arousal, so try combining blindfold play with slow sensual all over body massage. Touch your partner or be touched with a feather-like caress, using a feather, silk scarf or tickler. Feed them or be fed with with tiny morsels of chocolate, honey from your fingers or lips or trace an ice cube or drizzling champagne over your partner’s stomach, penis or clitoris.

Why can’t I orgasm?

Sexual sensation can diminish following surgical or medical intervention or drug therapy and you may find it more difficult or that it takes longer to orgasm. However, using a vibrator can help. The gentle vibrations can stimulate the numerous nerve endings in the clitoris and vagina, creating waves of pleasure.

As 75% of women orgasm through clitoral stimulation, they can often struggle during penetrative sex becuase they are not getting the right clitoral stimulation so consider using a bullet vibrator or clitoral stimulator on your clitoris during foreplay or intercourse. Your partner could wear a vibrating penis ring, such as a Je Joue Mio which can make his penis feel firmer whilst stimulating your clitoris at the same time.

The Satisfyer Pro 2 is a true innovation in clitoral stimulation, offering touch-free massage that you blow you away. Using sound wave technology, it engulfs the clitoris and creates gentle pressure waves that gently suck and tease the clitoris. Women who really struggle to orgasm find that this product really helps them.

The Satisfyer Pro Plus Vibration combines air pulsation wave stimulation with vibratory power whcih creates a completely unique sexual sensation.

You don’t have to give up on your sex life after ovarian cancer: there are so many things you can do to continue to enjoy sexual pleasure and intimacy with your partner by being a little imaginative and creative about the way in which you have sex. You can have lots of fun too!

So, have fun by being adventurous and start enjoying better sexual pleasure and intimacy!

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

Ovacome : www.ovacome.org.uk
Target Ovarian Cancer : www.targetovariancancer.org.uk
Eve Appeal : www.eveappeal.org.uk/gynaecological-cancers/ovarian-cancer
Ovarian Cancer Action : www.ovarian.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
Jennifer Young : www.beautydespitecancer.co.uk
HipHeadWear : www.hipheadwear.co.uk
Dr Hannah Short, Menopause Specialist : www.drhannahshort.co.uk
Pelvic, Obstetric and Gynaecological Physiotherapy : www.pogp.csp.org.uk

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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