Impact on sexuality and intimacy
Ovarian cancer can affect your sexuality in physical and emotional ways. The impact of these changes depends on many factors, such as treatment and side effects, your self-confidence, and whether you have a partner.
It is important to feel that your sexuality is respected when discussing how cancer treatment will affect you. Whatever your sexual orientation, your medical team should be able to openly discuss your needs and support you through treatment. Try to find a doctor who helps you feel at ease talking about sexual issues and relationships.
Treatment can cause physical side effects such as vaginal dryness, scarring and internal scar tissue (pelvic adhesions). These side effects can make sexual penetration painful, and you may have to explore different ways to climax (orgasm). The experience of having cancer can also reduce your desire for sex (libido).
For most people, 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. Although sexual intercourse may not always be possible, closeness and sharing can still be part of your relationship.
Changes to your body can affect the way you feel about yourself (your self-esteem) and make you feel self-conscious. You may feel less confident about who you are and what you can do. Give yourself time to adapt to any changes. Try to see yourself as a whole person (body, mind and personality) instead of focusing on the parts that have changed.
Tips for managing sexual changes
- Give yourself time to get used to any physical changes after cancer treatment.
- Show affection by touching, hugging, massaging, talking and holding hands.
- Let your partner know if you don’t feel like having sex, or if you find penetration uncomfortable.
- Talk to your doctor about ways to manage side effects that change your sex life. These may include using vaginal dilators, lubricants and moisturisers.
- If you find that vaginal dryness is a problem, take more time before and during sex to help the vagina relax and become more lubricated.
- Extra lubrication may make intercourse more comfortable. Choose a water-based or silicone-based gel without perfumes or colouring.
- Spend more time on foreplay and try different ways to become aroused.
- Try different positions during sex to work out which position is the most comfortable for you.
- If you can’t enjoy penetrative sex, explore other ways to climax, such as oral and manual stimulation.
- Talk about your feelings with your sexual partner or doctor, or ask your treatment team for a referral to a sexual therapist or psychologist.
- Do some regular physical activity to boost your energy and mood. Talk to your GP about managing any depression as it may be affecting your libido.
- For ideas about how to discuss sexuality questions with your treatment team, see Cancer Australia’s online resource Intimacy and sexuality for women with gynaecological cancer – starting a conversation.
A/Prof Sam Saidi, Senior Staff Specialist, Gynaecological Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; A/Prof Penny Blomfield, Gynaecological Oncologist, Hobart Women’s Specialists, and Chair, Australian Society of Gynaecologic Oncologists, TAS; Dr Robyn Cheuk, Senior Radiation Oncologist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Kim Hobbs, Clinical Specialist Social Worker, Gynaecological Cancer, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Sonja Kingston, Consumer; Clinical A/Prof Judy Kirk, Head, Familial Cancer Service, Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre, Westmead Hospital, and Sydney Medical School, The University of Sydney, NSW; Prof Linda Mileshkin, Medical Oncologist and Clinical Researcher, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Deb Roffe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Support Team, Ovarian Cancer Australia; Emily Stevens, Gynaecology Oncology Nurse Coordinator, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Flinders Medical Centre, SA; Dr Amy Vassallo, Fussell Family Foundation Research Fellow, Cancer Research Division, Cancer Council NSW; Merran Williams, Consumer.
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