Getting Back to Sex After Ovarian Cancer Treatment
- Ovarian cancer treatment side effects like fatigue, hair loss, and vaginal dryness can reduce your desire for sex
- The loss of intimacy is often temporary and treatable
- Ask your doctor for advice to restore your sex life
- Vaginal lubricants may make sex more comfortable
"Of course it's ok that you don't feel like having sex," says Dr. Kimberly Resnick, gynecologic oncologist at MetroHealth in Cleveland. "You've been diagnosed with cancer, you're on chemotherapy…For the majority of our patients, there are many things happening to their body that can make them feel as if they don’t wish to be intimate anymore."Read More
How Ovarian Cancer Treatment Affects Sex DriveOne of the biggest driving forces behind your squashed sex drive is that treatment for ovarian cancer can kickstart early menopause. "For some women who may not have been in menopause prior to surgery, we are putting them into surgical menopause, which is certainly going to decrease one's libido," says Dr. Resnick. Menopause can also bring with it vaginal dryness, making sex more uncomfortable. "Once intercourse is painful, the brain has a memory of that and doesn’t want to be in pain again," says Dr. Resnick.
Surgery is often followed by chemotherapy, and side effects like fatigue, nausea, and nerve damage can make it difficult to get back into the swing of things in the bedroom. Certain side effects of chemotherapy can change your appearance, too. "Oftentimes patients are losing their hair, which tends to make women feel self-conscious and makes them feel as though they're not attractive to their partner," says Dr. Resnick.
Just remember that these are only a few of the reasons you may not feel like having sex. Even if you're not experiencing physical side effects like hair loss or vaginal dryness, you could still be dealing with a low libido caused by something else related to your diagnosis.
How to Reclaim Intimacy
First, it's important to remember that intimacy doesn't have to equal sex if you aren't missing sex to begin with. "We know that for ovarian cancer patients, simply by having a partner, women have better outcomes," says Dr. Resnick. "And it likely has to do with being able to have some shared intimacy with someone and not feeling alone."
But if sex is a big part of the intimacy factor in your relationship and you want to start having it again, there are a number of solutions your doctor can help you with.
To start, Dr. Resnick recommends doing whatever you can to help you relax. Make sure you're in a comfortable environment the first time having sex after a hiatus is not the time to get adventurous. Where you can think a little out of the box is with sex toys. "A vaginal dilator or other sex toy prior to intercourse can help you learn how to relax the vaginal muscles again," says Dr. Resnick.
If you're dealing with vaginal dryness and are nervous about sex being painful, make sure to use a lubricant. "Buy one in the drugstore, online, or use coconut oil," Dr. Resnick advises. If you’re not sure which type to buy water-based, oil-based, or silicone-based ask your doctor for advice.
Most importantly, make sure to discuss intimacy and sex with your doctor, and don't be shy about bringing it up if they don't do so proactively. This is part of your treatment, and it's your doctor's job to help you sort through the emotional and physical barriers you may be dealing with. Once you overcome these hurdles, you can have a healthy relationship with your partner on your terms.