Sex After Cancer – The New York Times
At the time of diagnosis, many cancer patients spy on Eros rushing for the door. I know I did. For some, the eroticism disappears during or after the treatment. Anhedonia, the inability to experience pleasure, can afflict both men and women with cancer. We often receive more help from each other than from medical specialists who are beginning to take on this challenge.
It can be difficult to feel the desire if you dislike but fear your body or if you cannot recognize it as your own. Surgical scars, lost body parts and hair, chemically induced fatigue, radiological burns, nausea, hormone blocking drugs, numbness from neuropathy, weight gain or loss, and anxiety do not hardly work like aphrodisiacs. At 46, the youngest member of my cancer support group put it well: “An existential crisis is not sexy. Although her doctors offered no advice, she eventually tried to foster a renewed sex life, if only for the caring partner who followed her through treatment.
“Sex and Cancer,” a new book by Gynecologic Cancer Specialist Dr Saketh R. Guntupalli and Maryann Karinch, aims to help women with gynecologic or breast cancer. Dr Guntupalli and Ms Karinch are working to provide scientific evidence for an idea that some might consider predictable: “We have found that sex is less enjoyable for women after cancer and that all types of sexual activity – oral, vaginal and anal – decreased after cancer. . “In heavy prose pieces, their book describes the ways in which treatment inhibits romance.
More informative are the sections of “Sex and Cancer” in which the authors discuss what people can do to ensure that the “Emperor of All Diseases” does not rule and ruin their relationships. First and foremost, Dr Guntupalli and Ms Karinch urge readers not to ‘put a’ dysfunction ‘label on your love life just because you are reading something about what is’ normal’ or ‘average’. cancer patients also receive self-help manuals.
The broad term “sex” should not be confused with penetration or intercourse, according to Dr Guntupalli and Ms Karinch. “There is no dysfunction if both members of the couple are happy with the level and style of intimacy they enjoy.” Kissing, holding hands, cuddling, caressing and massaging couples arousing excitement and ardor. The authors do not mention the useful word “frottage” which comes from the French for rubbing or friction; it carefully groups together many forms of stimulation that arouse tenderness and excitement.
With a therapist or alone, partners can try “sensory focus exercises” that involve them in exploratory touch without the pressure of reaching a goal like orgasm. Pelvic floor exercises, vibrators, techniques to treat scar tissue and restricted range of motion, dilators as well as lubricants: Dr Guntupalli and Ms Karinch address these specifics to encourage survivors to redefine sex after cancer as a sensual source. of fun in a range of activities.
To illustrate this, they tell the story of Allis, a 49-year-old patient with ovarian cancer who undergoes “total pelvic exenteration” (surgical removal of the bladder, urethra, rectum, anus, vagina and cervix). She wakes up with a permanent colostomy and urinary diversion. She must carry two bags to collect feces and urine. Much to her dismay, her pretty thongs were gone, replaced by grandma’s panties. She buys an ostomy belt (to protect and hide the bags) as well as a black negligee.
But she sobs when her husband’s hugs make her realize that there is “no way to have normal sex.” After he reassures her that they can be creative, they start to make up their minds by visiting what she calls “kinky stores” and then exploring all possible ways to have fun together. .
Not facing such extreme physiological impairments, the youngest member of my support group nonetheless found herself “less easily aroused and less orgasmic.” Her explanation of how she cultivated “the art of desire” strikes me as enlightening for women and also for men.
She uses exercise to appreciate the tremendous resilience of her body; recognizes that it is anatomically, psychologically and hormonally altered; experiences solo sex and prolongs foreplay with her partner; and samples the shared stimulation of movies, concerts and travel to create a sense of closeness. Since her marital bed had been her sickbed, she rearranged the bedroom with sensory stimulants. He now promotes joy in his partner’s life and in his as well.
When Eros goes missing, books and conversations can help couples prepare to welcome the god’s return. As poet Marianne Moore once said, in a whole different context: “Whatever the problem, we must escape the feeling of being trapped, even if all we can say to each other is “If not now, later”. a lot of people, better late than never.
However, this is not the case for everyone, I realized when my contemporary and academic colleague Nancy K. Miller responded to my request for contributions on the question of sex after cancer. In her 70s, she, like me, managed the disease for years. With precisely the exasperation I associate with the intimacy I crave, she replied, “Do you expect me to remember sex?” My laughter was totally excited, as I bathed in the bliss of cherishing my friend’s candor.