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If cancer affects your sexuality

After I completed my education in sexology, I became a member of the Dutch Association of Sexologists (NVVS). The last edition of the member magazine was about cancer and sexuality. I myself have experienced this disease up close, when my mother was diagnosed with cancer, eventually resulting in her death. I was still relatively young at the time and never really thought much about the impact cancer can have on your sex life. Your first thoughts, of course, are focused on survival. You are entering a process of treatments, radiation, chemotherapy and/or operations. You live day by day and are happy when you get through the day again.

Still, once you've gotten over the first blow of this terrible news, it's good to also consider what impact cancer treatment can have on your sexuality. In most cases, care providers provide information without any problems about common complaints that may arise, such as headaches, nausea and other physical complaints. But when it comes to problems related to sexuality, they too often feel hesitant to broach this subject or expect the patient to come up with questions themselves.

If you or someone close to you is dealing with this, put your questions on a list and try to discuss this topic with your doctor as well. What impact will my treatment have on getting an erection? Will penetration still be possible at all? Is it okay to have sex? It is important not only to ask practical questions, but also about the experience of sexuality.

There is a chance that you will experience complaints during your recovery, such as pain during sex or vaginal dryness. Sometimes the use of a lubricant can help enough. But there are also complaints that require a little more time and attention, such as reduced arousal, fatigue or the absence of an orgasm. In such a case, always talk to a nurse or care provider who specializes in this area.

Fortunately, there are not only doomsday scenarios. In most cases, after a while, things will go well again and the suits will slowly get back on track. It is especially important to keep talking to each other. Share with each other how you feel, how your body has changed and what this does to your self-image. Help each other in this and confirm each other. In case of bigger problems, always get a referral to a sexologist or other specialized care provider. For example, he or she can discuss alternatives with you if coitus is temporarily no longer possible. It is precisely during such a difficult period that it is important to physically confirm each other. That you show that you still fully love and accept the other as he or she is.

Are you in the middle of a situation in which you just received bad news or are you recovering from treatment? Then I wish you a lot of strength and success.

Els Gouman
January 10, 2018

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