Cancer and the treatment can affect you physically, mentally, emotionally and sexually as well. Cancer patients who have been diagnosed with cancer is sceptical of his or her future sex life. Unfortunately sexuality is such a taboo topic in India and this makes it difficult for people who are affected (both partners) understand how to deal with the situation effectively.
Firstly, it needs to be understood that loss of libido and interest in sex is a normal side effect of treatment, especially for those cancers that are correlated with the reproductive system, such as cervical, uterine and prostate cancers. The lack of knowledge is now leading to destructive relationships. Not only do partners have to deal with the trauma that comes with cancer but also the affect it has on their physical interactions. Many relationships, marriages have been destroyed due to this. While this can be dealt with effectively, the “shhhh” attitude that we bare as a society is actually backfiring on us.
The time has come to talk about sex and sexuality. We need to address this openly so relationships can be salvaged and those affected by cancer can go on to living happier and more fulfilled lives.
So lets start here:
Depending upon the treatment, you experience different side-effects that will affect your sex life.
- Surgery: During surgery a small section of cancerous cells are removed from the cervix but certain times complete removal of cervix, ovaries and the uterus is required, called a hysterectomy. In such a situation, menopause occurs, which is followed by loss of interest in sex, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and night sweats making it uncomfortable to have sex.
- Radiotherapy: Radiotherapy is mainly directed at the pelvis region leading to burning and an itching sensation, due to which it’s always advised to avoid sex after your treatment for some time. Vaginal stenosis is the side effect of radiotherapy, wherein the vagina becomes narrow and dry making it painful during the sexual intercourse.
- Chemotherapy: The chemotherapy medication itself makes you tired and fatigue, which eventually disinterests you from having sex.
Overcoming the sexual side-effects of cancer treatment
- Discussing with your partner: Speaking to your partner about the pain, burning sensations and all the other physical, emotional side-effects of the cancer treatment will help you to cope and deal with the situation.
- Talk to your medical team: If you do experience any troubles, doubts, fears about sexual life after cancer treatment, seek help of your medical team who will assist you with way in which you can deal with the situation and even suggest a sex therapist.
- Speaking to a professional: Loss of libido or any interest in sexual intercourse being a normal side effect of treatment, many counsellors are equipped to manage these issues with their clients. Interacting with a professional provides you unbiased perspectives, tools, resources and methods that can be effectively used.
- Be patient: It’s important to know that these side-effects mostly decrease over time. Sometimes you just have to be patient with your body and what you have been through. This needs to be communicated to your partner as well. The fatigue, tiredness are due to the treatment and will subside over time.
There are also emotional side-effects that can cause sexual dysfunction. These include low moods, depression, worried about physical changes that cancer has brought about and stress over the relationship with your partner.