Sexuality for the Woman With Cancer

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Feeling good about yourself and feeling good about sex

In the United States, especially in the media, sex is all too often viewed as something for the young and healthy. Sex appeal is judged by some as a skin-deep sort of beauty rather than something based on love, kindness, maturity, or a sense of humor. Based on looks alone, most people may not feel all that attractive to start with. And after being treated for cancer, their self-esteem can often fall even further.

After cancer treatment, it’s easy to focus only on the part of the body that has been affected. For example, a single woman who has had a laryngectomy may fear she won’t be able to find another partner because she has lost her voice.

Sometimes friends and lovers withdraw emotionally from a person with cancer. This may not be due to how the person looks, but may be caused by some feelings or thoughts in the person who’s doing the looking. When one partner cannot bear to look at the other’s ostomy appliance, for instance, it may be a sign of much deeper feelings. Maybe they’re angry because they have to take over the partner’s usual tasks of paying bills and doing housework. Or the ostomy may remind one partner of how sad they would be if the other person died. It might be easier not to love that person so much. A partner may even be more aware of their own chance of death, which can be upsetting, too. Yet all these feelings get blamed on a stoma, which is a small part of one partner’s body. The “well” partner, in turn, may also feel like a failure and know that they’re letting the partner who’s had cancer down at a time when they are most needed.

Don’t give up on each other. It may take time and effort, but keep in mind that sexual touching between a woman and her partner is always possible. It may be easy to forget this, especially if you are both feeling down or have not had sex for a while. Review the section called “Keeping your sex life going despite cancer treatment” for some tips to help you and your partner through this time. Read the suggestions to help you through some of the changes that cancer may have brought to your life, your self-esteem, and your relationships. Keep in mind you may need help with the changes caused by cancer that can turn your and your partner’s lives upside down. See the section called “Professional help” for more on this.

Last Medical Review: 08/29/2013
Last Revised: 08/29/2013