| Guest Post by Barbara Musser, Founder of Sexy After Cancer and a 27-year breast cancer survivor. See more about her at www.SexyAfterCancer.com
As a longtime sex educator and breast cancer survivor, my path gives me the great gift of talking with many women about their sex lives before, during and after cancer diagnosis and treatment. I hear some stories of inspiration and hope, and many more of frustration and pain.
A familiar story goes something like this:
“My sex life was okay before cancer. Now I’d rather stick a needle in my eye than have sex with my partner because it’s so painful. My libido has gone missing and I don’t know how to get it back or if I even want to…”
or “I force myself to have sex once a month with my hubby. It’s torture and takes me a month to recover from the pain and soreness, but I feel like I have to do it to keep my marriage together.”
It’s heart wrenching. And comes as a very unwelcome surprise. Many cancer treatments have disastrous side effects on sexual function. Most of us don’t know it’s coming, which makes it worse. Doctors say that these days, with managed care, they don’t have time to talk about this. They say they’re happy to answer questions. That’s code for the fact that they don’t know how to talk about it. And if you don’t know it’s coming or are embarrassed, how can you ask?
On top of that, many treatments suppress hormone production to the point that desire and libido disappear. It’s such a delicate balance when you’ve lost the urge, may have gained or lost a lot of weight, your skin has changed and you feel like you’ve aged 20 years during treatment. Oh, yeah, and then there’s the whole foobs conversation. Did they tell you you’d lose all the sensation in your breasts? Do they even feel like you?
It’s a cluster F—K, and it hurts. A lot.
At the same time, our sexual energy is our life force energy. It’s the energy of life and living, of pleasure and orgasm and oxytocin. Whether it’s a distant memory or the subject of your fantasies, sex is part of life. The question is what can be done to recover it. Or to even want to do something about it.
Go figure why this has become my life’s passion, to help women find their way back to sexual health and pleasure. It’s time for this conversation to come into the light of day. I aim to turn on the lights and bring more pleasure to your life. I had to do it for myself because I just plain wasn’t willing to not have sex again. Let’s face it, 37 is too young for a life of celibacy. Necessity can be the mother of invention. That and grit and determination.
The chasm from where you may be now, to having sex, may seem as enormous as the Grand Canyon. Depending on your treatment and ongoing hormonal therapy, you may have a Sahara Desert inside your genitals. The treatments are designed to suppress any hormone production, and that also dries out and tenderizes genital tissues.
Really. Dry. And. Painful.
Over the decades since my own cancer diagnosis at age 37, I’ve been researching and gathering all sorts of information and tools. And of course, I’ve had to test them all – lucky me! I discovered many duds and also some things that work.
Hormones are part of the story, but not the whole story. There are plenty of things to do that can help. It begins with some of the sex education that you probably never got. For example, you have nerve endings and plenty of erectile tissue that doesn’t depend on hormones and isn’t in your vagina. Did you know that? Do you know your body now? Did you ever have good sex education? For many of us, sex education was all about pregnancy and disease prevention. And about shame. Period. Nothing about pleasure.
This is why I became a sex educator and am fierce about helping. It doesn’t have to be this way. Really.
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When I was diagnosed with breast cancer almost ten years ago, I had no idea that not everybody makes it. Now that I know that 1 out of 3 women diagnosed with breast cancer will develop metastatic breast cancer at some point in their lifetime, I can’t just accept that. WE have to do something about it.
In 2020, for the fourth year in a row, AnaOno is partnering with #Cancerland in a New York Fashion Week event to raise funds for METAvivor.