Most women feel shocked and upset about having cancer in one of the most intimate and private areas of their body. It is normal to experience a wide variety of emotions including anger, fear and resentment. These feelings may become stronger as you cope with the physical side effects of radiotherapy, surgery or chemotherapy.
Everyone has their own ways of coping with their emotions. Some people find it helpful to talk to friends or family, while others seek professional help from a specialist nurse or counsellor. Others prefer to keep their feelings to themselves.
You may find the closeness of your relationship with your partner is affected.
There is no right or wrong way to cope. Help is available if you need it. It is important to give yourself, your partner, family and friends time to deal with the emotions that cancer can cause.
Effect on your sexuality
Treatment for gynaecological cancer can cause physical side effects such as scarring, narrowing of the vagina, swelling and soreness, and tiredness. These side effects can affect your sexual response, and you may have to explore different ways to orgasm or climax.
However, for most women, sex is more than arousal, intercourse and orgasms. It involves feelings of intimacy and acceptance, as well as being able to give and receive love.
It can be difficult to talk about your sexual needs, fears or worries with your sexual partner, especially if you meet a new partner during or after treatment. However, you may be surprised and encouraged by your partner’s tolerance, trust, tenderness and love when you open up about what you have experienced.
Allow yourself to say no to any kind of sexual contact that does not feel right.
Cancer may reduce your desire for sex (libido). It may take some months after treatment before you begin to desire and enjoy sexual activity. Don’t be surprised if you feel very unsure about it.
- Talk to your doctor about ways to prevent or reduce side effects that affect your sex life.
- Let your partner know if you don’t feel like having sex, or if you find penetration uncomfortable.
- Apply a vaginal moisturiser 2-3 times a week or use a hormone cream to keep vaginal tissue supple and lubricated. Hormone creams are available on prescription.
- Use a vaginal dilator to keep the vagina open, as instructed by your medical team.
- Use plenty of water-based lubricant and try different sexual positions.
- Talk about your feelings with your sexual partner, a sex therapist or a counsellor.
- Explore different ways to climax. There are many other parts of your body that, when caressed, can increase sexual excitement and lead to orgasm. The breasts, inner thighs, feet and buttocks are all sensitive areas of the body.