|CANCER & TREATMENTS SUPPORT & SURVIVORSHIP PREVENTION & RISK ASSESSMENT CLINICAL TRIALS & RESEARCH LIVING WITH CANCER|
Strange Bedfellows: Cancer and SexFor the Spring, 2007 issue of Thrive, we talked to Sallie Foley, director of the University of Michigan Center for Sexual Health, about the impact of cancer and ways to regain a sense of normalcy in the bedroom. Foley is the co-author of "Sex Matters for Women: A Complete Guide to Taking Care of Your Sexual Self" and author of the "Modern Love" column in AARP The Magazine.
Q: Sex is one of those things people just don't talk about. What do we need to know?
Everybody is born in a sexual body. It is with us literally from before we are born until we die. An illness can affect our sexual response, but usually it affects us temporarily during the immediate aftermath of diagnosis and treatment.
Q: Before we discuss ways to rebound sexually after cancer treatment, can you talk a little bit about how our bodies work?
Absolutely. It's important to understand the sexual response cycle. We think of it in three parts.
Is a person interested in love making? Not everyone is.
If you are interested in getting into the bedroom, the
second thing is arousal.
Arousal involves all the physiologic things that happen in a person's body related to sexual functioning.
And finally, orgasm:
reaching a certain sensory threshold that then results in the sensation of orgasm, which are muscular contractions that occur in the genital region.
Cancer can have an impact on each part of the sexual response cycle.
Q: If I've had cancer, when should I expect to regain sexual function?
When I work with most people, they say it returns in six months to a year. We really ask that people give themselves a break psychologically and wait.
Q: What can people do to help bring desire back?
There's a lot you can do (see Tips), but one of the most important things is to get touched regularly in ways that are pleasurable.
Q: What if it's not a matter of desire and my body just isn't responding?
The one system that's often affected is the cardiovascular system. Medications can often temporarily compromise blood flow. For most people, once they're six months to a year past treatment, function will return. But if blood flow is impaired, the genitals don't become engorged. For men, what they experience is erectile difficulty; for women, the fancy term is "female sexual arousal disorder," but the real-life way to talk about it is, "I just don't lubricate, it's dry and it leads to painful sex." For women, one of our first lines of defense is to increase the use of lubrications. For men, we have medications that can help.
Q: Q: Any last thoughts?
Keep an open mind about the different ways to experience sexual pleasure. If your usual routines have been disrupted, try to be open to new ways, try touching different parts of the body and try using other ways to express caring and enjoyment. Remember that sex is a quality-of-life issue.
This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.
This information is part of the U-M Health System. The information presented is not a tool for self diagnosis or a substitute for professional care. © 2008 The Regents of the University of Michigan.