Guest Contributor: Mia Harris, Sex Therapist at Bloomhill Cancer Care
Cancer and its treatments may cause significant changes in people’s sexuality. This encompasses sexual desire, the experience of pleasure in sex, painful sex, changes in the ability to get and maintain erections, the ability to ejaculate, and the ability to orgasm. People may also experience changes in how they see themselves and their bodies, and all of these alterations may trigger emotional distress.
In the past, it was thought that the sexual effects of cancer and its treatments were mainly a problem for people who had cancers of their sexual and reproductive organs (prostate, testicular, breast, ovarian, cervical or vulval cancers) but we now know that it can affect people who experience cancer or malignancy in any part of their body, including blood or lymphatic malignancies. The effects of cancers and their treatments also affect people of all genders and sexualities, and we know that the intimate partners of people with cancer can also experience sexual difficulties and distress as a result of witnessing the troubles that their loved ones may be going through.
Sex is a topic that many of us find tricky to speak about. We may have grown up in a household or gone to a school that did not encourage discussion or education about sex, and our broader communities may not have welcomed openness about sex either. This silence has meant that people have not always been able to speak openly with health professionals or their intimate partners about the sexual problems that may result from their diagnosis and treatment.
The wonderful news is that this is changing; more resources are being produced for people with cancer who are experiencing sexual difficulties, health professionals are now open and prepared to have conversations about sex and intimacy, and our communities are opening up the dialogue about sex.
Here are some great resources and tips:
- You are not alone. It is estimated that between 40-100% of people with cancer experience sexual concerns as a result of their diagnosis and/or treatments (Carter et al, 2018).
- Remember to think broadly about sex and intimacy. Sex is a smorgasbord from which you can choose from, and it is one of many ways to maintain intimacy in a relationship.
- Sex is any act that sexually arouses you, and can include kissing, touch, sensual massage, penetrative intercourse, oral sex, the list goes on!.
- Intimacy is more than just sex: it is behaviours and activities that create connectedness between people. Cuddling, having meals together, making time to touch-base and chat with one another, doing activities that you both enjoy together are other ways to maintain intimacy with our partners.
- Open communication with our intimate partners is very important. Try to talk openly about things with your partner. Sex therapists, couples’ therapists, psychologists and counsellors can also help you both to have these conversations as part of a therapy session.
- There will be a solution. The solution may include a few different things such as talking about it with your partner or a health professional, thinking about sex and intimacy differently, taking a medication, using a topical cream or moisturiser, changing your sexual repertoire, using a device or having a surgical procedure for erectile issues. It is unique for each person and every relationship.
- There are health professionals who are here to help you. Our Bloomhill nurses, psychologists and counsellors are all here to chat with you about these issues. As at sex therapist at Bloomhill, I am also available for you, and or your partner to chat confidentially with. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for help.
Our nursing team are available if you have any initial questions on 07 5445 5794 or at email@example.com.
Some great resources are:
- “Sexuality and intimacy” on The Cancer Council website. It also includes a helpful booklet in PDF format at the bottom of the webpage.
- “Sex and cancer” (Episode 30 June, 2017) on the podcast “The Thing About Cancer”. This podcast is produced by the Cancer Council NSW, and it is hosted by Julie McCrossin.
- “Breast cancer” (Episode 3 October, 2016) on “Foreplay: couples and sex therapy” podcast.
- “Sex and cancer” (Episode 7 January, 2022) on the podcast “Not Your Grandma’s Cancer Show”. This podcast is aimed at people in their 20s.30s and 40s who have a cancer diagnosis, but it is an interesting listen for people of any age.
- “Rediscovering life and manhood after prostate cancer” (Episode 73, 20 January, 2022) on the podcast “Men, Sex and Pleasure with Cam Fraser”. Cam is an Australian sex therapist.
- Magnificent Sex: Lessons from extraordinary lovers by Peggy Kleinplatz and A. Dana Menard. This lovely book is not a self-help book on sex but more a discussion around the qualities, attitudes and behaviours that make wonderful sex.
Carter J, Lacchetti C, Andersen BL, Barton DL, Bolte S, Damast S et al. Interventions to address sexual problems in people with cancer: American Society of Clinical Oncology clinical practice guideline adaptation of Cancer Care Ontario Guideline. J Clin Onc. 2018 Feb 10(5): 492-511.
All information provided by Bloomhill is based on research and best practice guidelines. Our model of care utilizes the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) domains of wellness along with available clinical evidence. Always consult your care team regarding matters that affect your health. This is a guide intended for information only.