LOTL June 2015Cancer can take its toll, but it doesn’t have to take away your sexuality.

We know that sex isn’t generally on women’s minds during a cancer diagnosis or treatment – so when they beat cancer and want to get their lives back on track, they can be very shocked to discover that their sex lives may not be so easy to get back.

Over 40 percent of all cancer survivors experience negative sexual changes post-treatment, and this rises to over 90 percent in survivors treated for ‘below the belt’ cancer types, including prostate cancer, ovarian cancer and cervical cancer.

When it comes to sexual difficulties, many cancer survivors don’t know that sexual changes are common after treatment. It has been found that the LGBT community, which represents 5 percent of total cancer patients, experiences cancer differently from heterosexuals. LGBT individuals undergo higher rates of psychological distress and sexual concerns, lower levels of family support, and difficulties associated with accessing cancer services.

Individuals don’t seek professional help due to factors such as embarrassment and lack of privacy, and continue to suffer in silence. If their sexual changes are not understood or attended to, this can leave cancer survivors feeling less confident and less at ease with intimacy. Their partners may find it difficult to understand as well, often reporting decreased sexual satisfaction.

The sexual effects of cancer treatment can include:

  • Vaginal dryness or tightness
  • Decreased desire or motivation
  • Pain during penetration
  • Absent or muted orgasms

Sexual difficulties are complex, since physical and psychological concerns may interact. For example, the pain can be exacerbated by anxiety. Sexual wellbeing may also be disrupted by psychosocial factors such as poor body image or fatigue which can discourage sexual activity and intimacy, ultimately leading to sexual and relationship dissatisfaction.

The University of Sydney and Cancer Council NSW have identified that cancer survivors are suffering and need support. To address these issues, they have developed a world-first online resource, known as Rekindle, to improve the sexual wellbeing of all cancer survivors, whether in a relationship or single, and their partners.

Annie Miller from the Cancer Council NSW said, “Survivors are sometimes expected to bounce back to how they were before their illness, but if someone’s sexual identity has changed then that can alter how they feel, act and interact with others.

Rekindle offers a wide range of tools and practical advice – whether that is information on the side effects of treatments, overcoming fear and insecurity, how to communicate better with your partner to help you feel better about you and your relationships or practical advice on the use and availability of sex aids.”

Rekindle is designed for a wide range of possible users affected by any type of cancer. There are 12 versions of Rekindle tailored to gender, relationship status and sexual orientation. It is self-led; once you log on and answer a survey, you follow the pathway designed to best suit your needs, all within the privacy of your own home.

It is free to use, can be used on any device and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Whether you have sexual wellbeing concerns or difficulties, this resource will allow you to gain access to advice that is suitable for you.

For more information and to sign up, click here.


*This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of LOTL.