For patients, caregivers and family members of the CTCA Community
 
 
Sex and Intimacy After Cancer Treatment

Our culture is drenched in sexuality, yet it is still a topic we do not discuss openly. This communication void leaves many people feeling isolated and confused when facing changes in their sexuality. If you or a loved one is experiencing difficulties with sex after a cancer diagnosis, you are not alone. At least 60 percent of cancer patients report long-term sexual problems, according to an article published in Newsweek.

Cancer treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and hormonal therapies may change the physicality of sex - such as your desire to have sex and your relationship. Feeling close to another person - enjoying physical pleasure and emotional intimacy - can play a huge role in your overall quality of life.

Every day, Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) therapists work with couples whose lives have been impacted by cancer. CTCA® certified sex therapist Britt Hermann, LCSW, believes the most important part of sex and relationships is what she calls the "attachment dance" and that everyone has their own attachment style. "Your attachment style was written at birth, but goes through 'updates' every so often based on your new experiences and new relationships," Hermann says. Additionally she cites three distinct attachment styles:

  • - Secure: When your romantic partner goes away, you may experience longing or miss him or her, but you don't panic. You know your partner will come back, and you feel capable of soothing or distracting yourself. When your partner returns, you tend to feel better, but can tolerate the distance-closeness dance of romance.
  • - Avoidant: You manage feelings that your romantic partner might abandon you or not be there for you when you need him/her by not attaching at all. This is characterized by statements like, "I do better on my own," or "I don't need anyone." The avoidantly attached person may experience partners as engulfing or too demanding.
  • - Anxious: When you are anxiously attached, you cope with the risk that a romantic partner could leave by clinging to the partner. When the partner goes away, you may feel panic and dread; when he/she comes back, you may not feel better and may seek constant reassurance that the relationship is secure. The anxiously attached person typically has a significant fear of abandonment.
Help is available

Only one-fifth of cancer survivors seek help from a health care professional for sex and intimacy issues stemming from their cancer treatment, according to the same article.

Many Cancer Fighters members, however, are overcoming these challenges.

The Survivorship Support team at CTCA is designed to help you maintain your health and improve your quality of life during and after treatment. The survivorship support team offers evidence-informed therapies to help patients cope with cancer-related side effects including fatigue, cognitive impairment, depression, anxiety, sexual function and sleep disorders. Whether you are at one of our cancer hospitals, or at home in between visits, we're here to help.

Contact your CTCA care team to learn how you or your loved one with cancer could benefit from Survivorship Support Services.

Learn more and find help

Here are some articles and resources you may find helpful:

aasect.org. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) is a not-for-profit, interdisciplinary professional organization. In addition to sexuality educators, sexuality counselors and sex therapists, AASECT members include physicians, nurses, social workers, psychologists, allied health professionals, clergy members, lawyers, sociologists, marriage and family counselors and therapists, family planning specialists and researchers, as well as students in various relevant professional disciplines. These individuals share an interest in promoting understanding of human sexuality and healthy sexual behavior.

ashasexualhealth.org.  The American Sexual Health Association promotes the sexual health of individuals, families and communities by advocating sound policies and practices and educating the public, professionals and policy makers, in order to foster healthy sexual behaviors and relationships and prevent adverse health outcomes.

It’s not always about sex: Tips on building the 5 areas of intimacy. When you hear the word “intimacy,” you may immediately think of sex. But the term actually has a much broader definition that includes emotional connections, bonding time and other aspects of the relationship. Having a healthy level of intimacy is important for any couple, but it may be especially key to couples dealing with cancer, given the critical role caregiver partners play in helping their loved ones through their journey. That often means strengthening bonds, communication and other areas of intimacy, especially when sexual relations become more difficult as a result of cancer treatment. Read more at cancercenter.com.

Intimacy and Cancer: Staying Connected Through Treatment. A Cancer Fighters couple shares their challenges and solutions for maintaining physical and emotional intimacy during cancer treatment. Read more at cancerfightersthrive.com.

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