In keeping with our Valentine’s Day theme, we are focusing on sexuality in cancer survivors and previvors. Did you know that there are specialists in this area who can help you (and your partner) to get back in the groove? Here are some tips on vaginal dryness from Sharon Bober, PhD, Director of the Sexual Health Program at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA.
Vaginal dryness and Painful Sex:
Vaginal dryness and irritation are common problems can that lead to painful sexual activity and general discomfort. Certainly, when sex hurts, it is no surprise that interest in sexual activity often diminishes. In order to maintain good vaginal health, vaginal dryness can be addressed by use of vaginal moisturizers and vaginal lubricants. Moisturizers, such as Hyalo-Gyn or Replens, provide a smooth layer of moisture that adheres to the vaginal tissue and draws water into the tissue. Like moisturizers used for the face or hands, vaginal moisturizers are meant to be used on a regular basis; typically two or three times per week. In addition to inserting the moisturizer internally, it is important to remember to also massage a small amount of moisturizer around the opening of the vagina. Most women insert vaginal moisturizer before lying down at night; this will allow for optimal absorption. In terms of making sexual activity more comfortable, women can use a vaginal lubricant to provide a temporary protective coating on the skin and reduce friction during sexual activity. Water-based or silicone- based lubricants without perfumes or other irritants such as Liquid Silk or Slippery Stuff are best. Stay away from glycerin-based lubricants which can act as a sugar and promote yeast infections in some women as well as petroleum-based lubricants.
After cancer, it is important to take the time to re-connect with your body and figure out what feels pleasurable and what doesn’t. It is not uncommon to find that some types of touch or sexual activity that was pleasurable before may be different now. Some women find that starting with either self-touch or exploring with a vibrator can be a helpful first step for discovering what feels good on the journey to reconnecting with sex. Getting blood flowing and nerves firing is also great exercise for the genital tissue and helpful for maintaining good vaginal health.
Other tips for dealing with painful sex:
- Plan ahead for the time of day when pain is lowest and you have more energy.
- Change your position! Try different positions that may be more comfortable.
- If you are using pain meds, take them about an hour prior sexual activity.
Hear more tips in our podcast interview with Dr. Bober.