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How to Embrace Your Sexuality After a Diagnosis

Lauren Walker likes to talk about things that can make other people squirmespecially sex, cancer and sex after a cancer diagnosis.Walker, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Calgary, is a clinical psychologist and a researcher who specializes in helping people with cancer and their partners prioritize sexuality during and after cancer treatment. (Take note: Thats sexuality, not sex, because a satisfying sexual life means more than just the act.) Shes the co-author of the book Androgen Deprivation Therapy: An Essential Guide for Prostate Cancer Patients and their Loved Ones.Walker runs her own smart and sassy Instagram account, @drlaurenwalker. Its full of relatable sex and relationship advice, with the odd glimpse into her own life as a sex therapist and a mom to a child and a dog. For instance, after her daughter asked if she could have a sticker of a penis, Walker posted that she wasnt entirely sure how shed explain that one to her childcare provider. Sometimes things are hard to talk about even for the expert.Here are some of Walkers tips for how to embrace your sexuality after a diagnosis of cancer.(Related:The Honest, Expert-Backed Truth About Having Sex While on Your Period)

Make it a priority

Its easy to diminish the importance of sexuality and sex in the context of cancer. People often feel like they have far more pressing health concerns after their diagnosis. Some worry that sex might not be good for their body, or they dont know how they can comfortably have sex during treatment. But sexuality is a valid and vital part of quality of lifeand its likely to be affected by cancer and its related treatments, says Walker. An important thing about sensation post-cancer is that it may change, so you have to figure out what works for you now compared to before, she says.

You can still experience sexuality even if youre not up to sex

Walker says people often assume that if theyre not sexually active or havent been for a while, theyve become non-sexual. Thats wrong, she says. Experiencing sexuality can be as simple as getting kind of turned on by a steamy scene in a movie: you dont have to do anything about it. Walker encourages her clients to think more broadly about what it means to enjoy sexualityconsider things like dressing up, dancing, eating and listening to music.(Related:First Person: How Losing My Tongue to Cancer Helped Me Find My Voice)

Dont be afraid to talk to your health-care provider about sex

People skip the sex talk with their doctors when theyre going through cancer treatment. Sure, sex can take a back seat to things like chemotherapy, surgery and symptom management. But your sexual relationships are likely to be affected by the disease or its treatment, depending on your condition. Dont let feeling awkward stop you from bringing it up with a health-care provider, she says. Thats their job.

You dont have to figure this out alone

Walker recommends people diagnosed with cancer and their partners check out the Canadian Cancer Societys booklet on cancer, sex and intimacy. She also gives high marks to sexuality counsellor Anne Katzs books on cancer and sexuality.(Related:Sex After 40: The Shocking Truth No One Talks About)

Learn how you can be a supportive partner

Cancer affects both people in a relationship. If your partner is diagnosed with cancer, offer reassurance and encouragement. Talk about sex, and listen to them. Navigate the options for sexual concerns together. Seek out ways to be intimate that are meaningful for you both but dont necessarily involve sex.(Related:How I Used 7 Communication Tips to Improve My Relationship)

Just getting naked with your person can be rewarding

Maybe sex is not a priority right now. Thats fine. But theres still a benefit to having your body being touched by your loved ones body. Take time to enjoy skin-to-skin contact with no other purpose in mindnot as a prelude or a postscript to sex. There’s a real intimate connection that is built through that skin-on-skin activity, says Walker.

Relish the ways the body demonstrates strength and resilience

Cancer often leads to difficult changes in a persons bodythings like pain, weight loss or gain, scarring and fatigue. Breast cancer may mean the loss of a breast, while prostate cancer treatment could result in incontinence. These side effects can diminish a persons confidence and comfort in their body. Walker advises her clients to try to focus on appreciating the power in their physical bodies. People who have any illness tend to feel prouder when they pay attention to the things their bodies have overcome rather than dwelling on loss. Thats a good indicator of resilience and confidence, she says.

Stop making orgasm the goal

Intercourse might not be on someones wish list, especially if theyre recovering from chemotherapy or surgery. And that’s fine, says Walker. Humans dont need to engage in genital-oriented sexual activity to experience intimacy or comfort. Walker encourages cuddling, kissing and fondling in a non-goal-oriented way to see what both partners are comfortable with. It’s about challenging [the idea] that sex needs to be penetrative and needs to end in orgasms, she says.(Related:3 Ways Your Sex Life May Change at Midlife)

Make sure theres a reward in sex for you

Whatever sexual experience you’re having, make sure theres a benefit for you. The reward might be something different in the context of cancer compared to before. For example, it could be physical pleasure, emotional connection to a partner, feeling empowered or feeling attractive, or something to help you fall asleep. Make sure there is something there that you stand to gain from the effort youre putting in, says Walker.

Set time aside for sexual experiences

Walker often tells clients that if theyre looking for sexual desire to arrive like a lightning bolt, they might be waiting a long time. Hormones are changing. People are busy. Stress levels are high, especially when someone is sick. Block off time for sexual experiences. Walker says couples who make a conscious effort to prioritize sexual experiences tend to maintain their sexual relationship. (Thats true all the timenot just after a cancer diagnosis!)

If youve experienced pain with penetrative sex but are motivated to have it, there are ways to treat it

Walker suggests those who experience pain with penetration play with milder, less invasive sexual activity, and in time, they might want to have penetration. In those cases, she recommends clients see psychologists and/or pelvic floor physiotherapists. But she cant say this enough: People have very enriched, satisfying sexual lives without penetrative activity. You dont need it.Next,Samantha Bitty Knows Good Sex (and Wants You to Know It, Too)

The post How to Embrace Your Sexuality After a Diagnosis appeared first on Best Health Magazine Canada.

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