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Where’s my Mojo? Sexuality and a Cancer Diagnosis

Sexuality and libido are hot topics now. Personal products and erectile dysfunction medications are discussed and advertised on TV, in print, and on the Internet by politicians and celebrities, by elderly couples and young starlets. Cosmo and Women’s Day both feature articles on lubricants and intimacy workshops. Sexuality is okay!

Just as a woman’s sexual response is complex, so are the reasons for disruption. Major life stresses, time constraints, medications, relationship issues, and body image are just a few factors that can significantly interfere with the joy of sexuality, and a cancer diagnosis with resultant treatment only magnifies these issues. Many women do not take steps to address this concern, however. In their common role as caregiver, they often have difficulty prioritizing themselves. They find it hard to ask for help and are unsure if help is out there. They feel conflicted about “need” versus vanity or selfishness.

Anatomic and physiologic changes can occur as a result of cancer treatments. Organs may be altered or absent from surgery or radiation therapy. Sensation can be altered or dampened, and pain may develop. Estrogen levels may drop from removal of ovaries or introduction of medications such as chemotherapy or hormonal modulators, leading to hot flashes, sleep deprivation, tissue changes, and mood shifts.

Surrounding issues such as fatigue and time constraints can make it more difficult to prioritize intimacy. Daily household and workplace tasks may need to be redistributed, yet delegation is time-consuming and often unsatisfying. Personal appearance can feel unfamiliar, with weight fluctuations, hair changes, and aversion to touch after multiple treatments and examinations. Furthermore, changes in role and body image can be very private concerns, and women often find disclosure difficult.

The documented benefits of sexuality are numerous and extend into many facets of life and health:

  • Enhances mood and self-esteem
  • Reduces stress
  • Improves immune system
  • Assists with weight control
  • Restores sleep
  • Decreases pain
  • Maintains heart health
  • Strengthens pelvic floor
  • Enriches relationship with self and others
  • Promotes optimism

Many resources are available to help address sexuality concerns. Health providers can often suggest medications, procedures, or specialized products to counter or prevent the effects of treatment. Sex educators and physical therapists can assist with approaches for circumventing new physical conditions. Sex therapists, counselors, and social workers can provide professional help, while family members, friends and work colleagues can lend a hand or an ear.  Your mojo is there.  It just needs to be rediscovered.