Cancer isn’t pretty. Besides generally feeling unwell, the hair loss, body composition changes, aches and pains, and hormonal fluctuations are not exactly sexy. Having cancer (or loving someone who does) can certainly challenge intimate relationships. It’s important for cancer warriors to know this isn’t unusual and there are plenty of ways to maintain healthy relationships with their partners ❤
Some cancer- or treatment-related challenges that may affect someone’s sexual function, sexuality, or intimacy with their partner can include:
- Chemo side effects including fatigue, nausea/vomiting, weight loss/gain, or infertility concerns (etc, etc, etc….)
- Post-surgical or post-radiation considerations like:
- pain or restrictions from scar tissue or irradiated tissues (especially with cancer of the reproductive organs)
- decreased sensation around the nipples after mastectomy
- urinary incontinence or erectile dysfunction post-prostatectomy
- New medications that reduce desire or arousal
- Hormonal changes resulting in low libido, vaginal dryness, or painful sex
- Body image concerns including attractiveness to self or partner
- Depression, anxiety, or PTSD surrounding a cancer diagnosis and treatment
There are many ways that pelvic floor physical therapists (PFPTs) can help support both men and women during and after cancer in this realm. PFPTs can treat the physical changes that come with cancer including post-surgical rehab or prescribe general strength/aerobic training. We can treat incontinence after surgery or radiation. We can recommend sexual positions or devices to reduce or eliminate pain with sex. And sometimes, we help our patients find new ways to connect with their partners when they’re not ready to be sexually intimate yet.
Often, seeing a licensed counselor or psychologist for individual and/or couples therapy can be very helpful to maintain or restore intimacy. Remember, cancer is not pretty, and there is no shame in asking for help! If you’re having concerns or challenges in your relationship, please reach out to me to see if pelvic floor PT or a referral to a mental health professional might be right for you.
*This blog is part 3 of Pink October’s Pelvic Floor Series, a way to raise awareness of pelvic floor problems during cancer treatment and discuss sex & intimacy after a cancer diagnosis.