Last Updated: February 5, 2019

Have you lost that lovin’ feeling after a cancer diagnosis or treatment(s)? Or perhaps you haven’t been sexually active since having prophylactic removal of your breasts, colon, ovaries, uterus, or all of the above?

Well, that’s not surprising. Your main goal has been to get through it. You’ve done that — congratulations! But now you’re wondering how to get back in the saddle (um, so to speak).

This Valentine’s Day, give yourself a gift – whether you’re coupled or single – bring your sexy back. Here is a short guide:

First – Give yourself a break. Some people feel embarrassed, sad, or guilty that they haven’t had sex in a long time. You may feel that your dry spell has been unfair to your partner, you, and/or your relationship. Give yourself a break! You’ve been through a lot, and you weren’t ready then, but maybe you’re ready now.

Get to know your body again. Your body has likely changed if you’ve had surgery, treatment, or have undergone surgical menopause. Find some uninterrupted time to explore your body – perhaps in the bath, shower, or in front of a mirror. Make special note of the ways in which you look great. Note what may have changed: do you have sensitivity on the surgical and/or reconstruction site? Has your libido decreased? Is it more difficult to get or maintain an erection? Are you experiencing vaginal dryness or tightness?

Explore your options. If you’ve identified some issues, it’s now time to explore the available solutions. You may be a candidate for hormones (yes, even as a cancer survivor), medications, lubricants, or creams that can help ease your symptoms. Warning:  you will need to be your own advocate here. Many clinicians are not comfortable and/or up-to-date on counseling patients about sexual issues, and you may need to shop around.

Start with a clinician you trust, and make an appointment. Consider sending an email or note outlining your issues and questions in advance of your appointment so that your concerns aren’t overshadowed in the session. Is there a sexuality clinic or a sex therapist in your area, perhaps for cancer survivors or previvors? For example, Dr. Sharon Bober is well-known in this field for her Sexual Health Program, which is geared specifically towards those affected by cancer. This is the first step in researching your options for jumping over (or ducking around) the new hurdles you may encounter.

Pamper yourself. What would make you feel best about your body? Some survivors get beautiful tattoos over their scars, wear lingerie or tank tops to cover stomas, or utilize silk robes to feel sexy while getting used to their new bodies. Do whatever feels best to you. If getting a massage, pedicure, a new aftershave, or wearing your favorite body lotion makes you feel sexy, do it.

Take it slow. If you haven’t had sex in a while, stick your toe in the water (so to speak). Start with kissing and touching and see how that goes. Which brings us to a critical point …

Communicate with your partner! That’s right, have an open and direct conversation about having sex before you actually have it. Discuss how you’re feeling about your body and your concerns. You may find that your partner is as reluctant as you are about diving back in — and may be worried about seeing your body and/or physically hurting you. Come up with a plan and set the expectation that you’ll start slowly and stop if anything is uncomfortable. Is it difficult to speak to your partner about sex? Start by sharing this article.

Additional Resources:

Facing Forward: Life After Cancer Treatment
Keeping your sex life going despite cancer treatment

Photo by PortoBay Hotels & Resorts, via Flickr