Impact on sexuality and intimacy
Ovarian cancer can affect your sexuality in physical and emotional ways.
It is important to feel that your sexuality is respected when discussing how cancer treatment will affect you. Whatever your gender identity or 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.
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For more on this, see our general section on Sexuality, intimacy and cancer.
Treatment can cause dryness and scarring of the vagina, and internal scar tissue (pelvic adhesions). These side effects can make sexual penetration painful, and you may have to find different ways to climax (orgasm). The experience of having cancer may mean you lose interest in intimacy and sex (low 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 get used 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
- Enjoy other physical touch with your partner without having sexual intercourse to maintain intimacy. Try touching, hugging, massaging, holding hands and having a bath together.
- 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 well aroused.
- Use lubricant to make sexual intercourse more comfortable. Choose a water-based or silicone- based gel with no added perfumes or colouring (e.g. Pjur or Astroglide).
- 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 how you’re feeling 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 and desire for intimacy.
- For ideas on how to talk to your treatment team about sexual changes, read Cancer Australia’s Intimacy and sexuality for women with gynaecological cancer – starting a conversation.
Podcast: Sex and Cancer
Dr Nisha Jagasia, Gynaecological Oncologist, Mater Hospital Brisbane, QLD; Sue Hayes, Consumer; Bronwyn Jennings, Gynaecology Oncology Clinical Nurse Consultant, Mater Health, QLD; Dr Andrew Lee, Radiation Oncologist, Canberra Region Cancer Centre and Canberra Hospital, ACT; A/Prof Tarek Meniawy, Medical Oncologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Caitriona Nienaber, Cancer Council WA; Jane Power, Consumer; A/Prof Sam Saidi, Senior Staff Specialist, Gynaecological Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW.
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