Intimacy and Sexuality
Ovarian cancer and its treatment can profoundly affect the way you feel about yourself and your body, your sexual desire and your sexual relationship with others, whether or not you have a partner.
Having your reproductive organs removed or not being able to have children can leave some women feeling a great sense of loss, or feel they are no longer complete as a woman.
Feeling unwell, feeling physically and emotionally tired, coping with the nausea and fatigue of chemo, feeling depressed or anxious, being in pain – can all reduce your interest in and desire for being intimate (talking, cuddling, as well as having sex).
Body changes, scarring, hair loss and other physical changes may make you feel less attractive. You may not want anyone to touch you or talk about your physical appearance.
If you are not currently in a relationship, you may be worried about how a future partner will react to your illness, your feelings and your body.
Following treatment you might be asked to undergo rehabilitation to manage and reverse the impact of treatment on your sex organs.
What can help?
Communicating with the treatment team
Communicating openly about our sexuality can be difficult and it is an important way to help you understand the changes you are experiencing, Your treating team is the best place to obtain information and strategies to manage these concerns. While it might feel that this is not a priority, if you have concers it is important to initiate the conversation.
Communication with your partner
Sometimes not communicating your feelings clearly to each other can lead one person to make untrue assumptions. For example, a partner may avoid or no longer initiate intimacy, such as cuddling, kissing, talking or sex, because they are trying to be sensitive to the other’s needs. This may be interpreted as feeling you are no longer attractive to your partner.
You and your partner might expect sex to be spontaneous, involving certain sexual routines with an expectation for intercourse and orgasm. With open communication after treatment you and your partner can develop new routines and sexual behaviors
Take it slowly and use creativity to work out what feels good. This may take time and practice and willingness to maintain intimacy.
If you have little or no sexual interest, try not to exclude intimacy such as holding hands, cuddling on the sofa, hugging and kissing , without the expectation that this will lead to intercourse.
Get in touch with your body – after surgery in particular you might be worried about how your body feels, are there physical changes and how they impact your experience of pleasure. Can you make time and private space to explore your body and get in touch with how it feels now ? Can you focus on how your body reacts to affectionate touching?
I had to reframe things in my mind. This has been so important and helpful. I had to get out of the clinical/medical/cancer treatment space and back into the sexual space.
Plan intimacy for times when you think you will have the most energy. You might like to make a ‘date’ with your partner, which can be a fun way to build an emotional connection or sexual arousal. There are many different ways of being intimate and enjoying physical closeness: touching, stroking, cuddling, kissing, massaging or simply holding each other can be satisfying additions to or alternatives to sex.
Vaginal moisturisers and water-based and silicone lubricants can help make sexual activity more comfortable. Intercourse without lubrication for many women is uncomfortable and can be painful
Talk to a counsellor, sex therapist or a doctor with specialist training in sexuality and cancer.
Webinar: Love in the time of cancer
Sexual issues and challenges are common among women with ovarian cancer and are often not talked about. This webinar focuses on the sexual challenges and issues faced by women with ovarian cancer, including sexual dysfunction and the impact this may have on quality of life.
More information and support
Ovarian Cancer Australia offers dedicated Sexual Health Counselling to people impacted by ovarian cancer. Visit the page or phone the Ovarian Cancer Australia helpline on 1300 660 334 for more information
You can find your own counsellor/psychologist from the following organisations. But you will have to pay for the sessions:
Australian Psychological Society, call 1800 333 497
ASSERT NSW can provide details of sex therapists in all states
Cancer Australia - Intimacy and sexuality for women with gynaecological cancers – starting a conversation- Intimacy and sexuality for women with gynaecological cancer - starting a conversation | Cancer Australia