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.
- If your surgery has resulted in menopause, hormonal changes can lower your libido (desire for sex) and cause vaginal dryness.
- 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.
What can help?
Understanding these changes, communicating about them openly and finding ways to ease anxiety can help you feel better.
- Communicating openly about our sexuality can be difficult, but it is so important. 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.
- 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.
- Take it slowly and use creativity to work out what feels good. Any problems usually get better with time and practice.
- Vaginal moisturisers such as Replens® and water-based and silicone lubricants can help make sexual activity more comfortable.
- Talk to a counsellor, sex therapist or a doctor with specialist training in sexuality and cancer.