Sexuality and Cancer

I recently wrote a brief introduction to psychosexual therapy for Dimbleby Cancer Care ‘s magazine – DCC news. Psychosexual therapy, for couples or individuals, is sometimes available through your local service. I know it is in no way a full possibility of what you may feel or be going through (as patient, or patient partner). That’s why psychosexual therapy is a tailored service to you as an individual/couple.

I’ve found some useful Macmillan booklets – particularly around Prostate Cancer. But if you only want to read one – there is a cracking booklet / article now produced by the Sexual Dysfunction Association – Intimacy & Sexuality for cancer patients and their partners. A booklet of tips and ideas for your journey of recovery. Not a particularly glamourous charity name – but it’s a good quality leaflet.

Full article content is below……

Is it any wonder that sex may be left to the bottom of the priority list when there has been so much going on with your treatment? For some it’s been about day to day survival and getting the courage and strength to move out of bed, or put a smile on your face – for others dealing with your children or business on the back of your diagnosis or treatment.  Would you like some help in the area? Are you ready to make some changes?

There are many things that can come up in the counselling room linked to sex and relationships with clients living with cancer.  However, two of the common issues talked about are; how the partner of the person who is living with cancer is doing in a relationship, and secondly how to cope when permanent physical changes are made to your body, when the time comes for sex.

What to do in the mean time.

Have you spoken about the fact that you’re exhausted and feeling rough, but in relation to your sex life, post diagnosis? When was the last time you had a really passionate kissing session, or lay together naked? You my never have had much sex, or this may be a huge shift in your sex life.  During ongoing treatment it might be about ensuring partners feel intimately connected, even if it’s not any sort of sex that is on the cards. Very often the partner of the person going through treatment doesn’t want to make a big deal about the fact that they’re feeling left out – but they still need some attention – whether it’s an affirmation of their support or some naked cuddling. Ask each other!

Irreversible body changes.

Your favourite thing in your sexual repertoire might need to change, you might need to experiment again to find out what your ‘new body’ likes. Very often seen with ladies who have had a mastectomy. Other changes might be around changes in your vagina, or prostate that effect how you like to be touched, or what your body can ‘do’ sexually. You might have a stoma bag attached – how are you going to work around this? It’ll be about finding a way around these – maybe using physical aids for erection problems (get the ‘penis gym’ working), or working around a new foreplay regime taking into account these changes.  For some you may be single and trying to figure out how to cope with this when you get naked with someone for the first time when you’re next dating.

Work in a counselling room, might involve talking about loss of the body/ sexuality you had before cancer. So it might be bit of grief work of ‘loss of being a man/ women’ if your cancer has effected an area of your body connected to sexual organs. However it could also be doing some body exploration together – communicating through body diagrams for example and telling each other where you do / do not like being touched. If you’re not sure, you might be set some ‘homework tasks’ to try at home!

Clare Staunton is a sex and relationship therapist based in London who specializes in helping couples become more intimate and making changes in their sex lives,  in her private counselling practice. If you’d like to get in touch please contact her through or @sexualhealinguk

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