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Sex and Cancer

When you or someone you love receives a cancer diagnosis, sex may be the furthest thing from your mind. Instead, you are probably thinking, “Holy shit … how did this happen?” and “What do I do now?!” Though eventually, you start craving a return to some sense of normalcy, including at least some sexy time. For some survivors, this happens almost immediately; for others, it takes a bit longer. Thanks to new forms of treatment, many survivors have the time since they are living longer and richer lives than ever before.

That being said, about half of survivors report having long-lasting sexual issues. Because sex involves both body and mind, these issues can be physical, mental, or emotional.  They may bother only you or they may affect your relationship with a partner. Regardless, the end result is the same: you aren’t getting the sex and intimacy they crave and deserve.

In this two-part series, we’ll be exploring both the common sexual issues experienced by cancer survivors and what you can do about them.  Because I believe good sex, however you define it, is everyone’s birthright! Consider this Part I to be the foreplay to an amazing and climactic Part II.

So what are these sexual issues? The most common ones are:

  • Loss of or decreased sexual desire (libido)
  • Pain with intercourse (dyspareunia)
  • The inability to become aroused
  • Difficulty reaching orgasm (climax)

Other side effects can change your sex life even if they aren’t sexual in nature. For example, tiredness (fatigue), swelling in your arms and legs (lymphedema), and bodily pain can make sex both difficult and uncomfortable.  Heck, we all know that if you are tired enough, even the best sex can feel like a chore!

Then there are the physical changes. Maybe you’ve gained or lost weight (and hair), had a surgery, or sported an ostomy. These things might understandably make you feel a little uncomfortable or even embarrassed when naked. I’m going to talk a lot about self-love ßdouble entendre intended in Part II but for now let me say this: your beautiful body has gotten you through so damn much. If the only thing you can muster is gratitude for what s/he’s gone through, then focus on that for now and worry about boosting your body image later.

*back to our regularly scheduled programing*

I know these changes can feel totally overwhelming and un-sexy.  Luckily, there are so many treatment options no matter what side effects you are experiencing. Being a cancer survivor does not have to mean the end of your (amazing) sex life.

Go ahead and repeat that a few times until it sinks in. Then tune in for our Part II.

Your Partner in Passion,

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Images courtesy of Shutterstock

Kait Scalisi

Kait Scalisi is a sex educator, writer, and consultant who focuses on helping others find freedom in pleasure. Her interests include passionate monogamy, sex-positive approaches to violence prevention, and the intersection among sexual health, pleasure, and chronic disease. Kait has over five years of teaching experience with audiences ranging from cancer survivors to college students, new moms to survivors of sex trafficking. With a background in both health education and neuroscience, Kait has a deep understanding of the physiological and psychological processes underlying pleasure as well as how to share this information in an engaging, entertaining, and accessible way. She is a featured writer for Sexual Health Rankings, the author of several pamphlets produced by the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, and a contributor to The Pink Paper and the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation. Her work also has been featured at conferences hosted by Emory University's Respect Program, Johns Hopkins University, Johns Hopkins Medicine, and the Leukaemia and Lymphoma Society. Kait currently lives in NYC where she spends her days exploring the secrets of Central Park and advocating for reproductive justice with Planned Parenthood's Activist Council.

Get in touch with Kaitlyn via email at


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