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SEXUALITY AND CANCER

Posted on May 29, 2011, under Cancer.

Because gynecological cancer relates specifically to the reproductive system and body parts that create our ‘sexual’ identity, the impact on sexuality and fertility can have significant consequences on a woman’s sense of self and intimate future.
An intimate relationship is one of life’s great joys. This can be expressed in a variety of ways, most commonly in sexual activity. Equally joyful is an intimate relationship with ourselves that reassures us, as women, that we are feminine and valued as sexual beings despite changes to our body. Just because we may have had radical treatment to save our life, treatment that changes our physical and gynecological self, does not mean we are ‘sexless’.
Immediately after a cancer diagnosis the primary focus for many women is on the physical issues around restoring good health. Sexual activity and other expressions of intimacy are often foregone, ignored or delayed as women come to terms with the impact of the medical (physical) treatment that has to be undergone to survive. It is only after one has come to terms with the physical coping that the realization of the impact on fertility, sexuality, body image, intimacy emotions and spirituality becomes apparent. The way in which this initial ‘physical’ phase is managed has an enormous impact on the way a woman will not only resume her life, but also in the way she sees her self as sexually relevant and ‘female’.
Whilst issues are relevant for all women independent of sexual preference, identity or relationship status we have included specific information for lesbians as research shows that these women have particular issues when dealing with gynecological cancer.
Many women at the time of diagnosis still see themselves as sexually desirable, despite body shape or age. Others have been celibate for some time either by choice or due to factors such as widowhood, and therefore body image and sex are not that relevant in the greater scheme of their life activities.
The range of women we interviewed covered the broad spectrum of relationships of all ages and stages in the life cycle – single, divorced, newly married, long-term married, lesbian, new mother experiences. The quality of their sexual activity and levels of intimacy was determined by the quality of the relationship prior to the diagnosis. Those in stable, caring relationships with good communication between them restored the intimate aspects of life far quicker than those whose relationships were in jeopardy before diagnosis.
Fertility issues were significant for all pre-menopausal women despite the status of their relationship. Young single women were concerned about the possibility of forming a long-term relationship. Many women, regardless of age, found it difficult to accept the surgical scars and saw them as a barrier initially to resuming or forming intimate relationships. The good news is that all these reactions are entirely normal in the process of recovery. The better news is that most of these feelings and reactions only last for a short time.
Do you know that the quicker intimacy can be resumed after a cancer diagnosis, the quicker your self-esteem and body image issues can be resolved?
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