Intimacy and Sexuality After Cancer: Questions Answered and Concerns Addressed

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The Women's Sexual Health Foundation (TWSHF) released an issue of the Women's Sexual Health Journal devoted entirely to women's sexuality and cancer, a topic the Foundation frequently addresses with healthcare professionals, cancer patients and survivors. Experts answer questions and concerns women have that are often not discussed prior to or after their cancer treatment relating to intimacy and sexuality.

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It is my hope that they will inspire women, their partners, and practitioners to talk openly about sexual experiences and sexual challenges without fear of embarrassment.

Today The Women's Sexual Health Foundation (TWSHF) released an issue of the Women's Sexual Health Foundation Journal devoted entirely to women's sexuality and cancer, a topic the Foundation frequently addresses with healthcare professionals, cancer patients and survivors. This journal, entitled Women's Sexuality and Cancer, is available as a free download on the Foundation's website, http://www.TWSHF.org.

Intimacy and sexuality are important quality of life elements that can be negatively impacted by cancer and its treatment. Women with cancer, regardless of age, race, gender or socioeconomic background, have questions and often don't know where to turn for the answers. The Women's Sexual Health Journal Intimacy and Sexuality after Cancer is authored by two experts in this field - Sage Bolte, an Oncology Counselor at Life with Cancer® in Fairfax, Virginia and Peggy Lipford McKeal, PhD. LMHC. The introduction is written by The Women's Sexual Health Foundation founder and Executive Director, Lisa Martinez, RN, JD, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, four years after she established the Foundation.

"The articles authored by these two psychotherapists who work with women with cancer give us a close up view of the sexual issues with which women with breast and other women's cancers commonly struggle," comments Stephanie Buehler, MPW, PsyD, CST, and Editor of The Women's Sexual Health Journal. "It is my hope that they will inspire women, their partners, and practitioners to talk openly about sexual experiences and sexual challenges without fear of embarrassment."

In Sage Bolte's journal article, Cancer and Sexuality, she reports that 21%-39% of the more than 2.1 million women in the United States who are breast cancer survivors will be impacted by sexual dysfunction. The percentage may even be higher for those on hormone treatments and even higher for women diagnosed with gynecological cancers. "The impact of cancer and its treatments on a woman's sexuality are significant. Side effects like pain and fatigue often impact a woman's sexual function, sexual identity and feelings of attractiveness."

The Women's Sexual Health Foundation understands that there is a great need to bring educational information, from both the physical and psychological perspective, to women who traditionally have received little information in this area. And in turn this same information needs to get into the hands of healthcare providers. The Journal is designed to support women and the professionals who treat them.

"It is typical for these health practitioners to discuss everything but sexual health," writes Dr. McKeal in her article Intimacy and Sexuality after Cancer. "They normally leave it to the woman to ask. The medical community, focusing on illness and improved health does not treat pleasure or its deficit."                                 

Dr. McKeal's article also reports insights and advice shared by women in Gynecological Cancers Support groups. "Women who were interviewed agreed that prior to treatments education about the likely side effects to sexuality should be a priority in every office associated with oncology treatments." McKeal sites the benefits of sexuality topics being discussed in a support group setting where women have the opportunity to share solutions.

"Life does change after cancer, but that does not mean women cannot reclaim many aspects of the quality of the life they had before cancer," states Lisa Martinez RN, JD. "You are not alone
if you have had intimacy difficulties since your cancer diagnosis and treatment. So if you have a concern, you should raise it with your healthcare team." Martinez also states that if your doctor cannot help you, then ask for a referral to someone who can. More and more healthcare professionals are developing the expertise to help women with sexual function and intimacy difficulties. A list of websites and other resources concerning sexuality and cancer for both healthcare professionals and male and female patients is made available in the journal.

A free downloadable version of The Women's Sexual Health Journal on Women's Sexuality and Cancer is available on the Foundation's website, http://www.TWSHF.org.

About The Women's Sexual Health Journal:
The Women's Sexual Health Journal is an on-line quarterly journal available through The Women's Sexual Health Foundation. It contains personal stories about women and their sexual health difficulties, and articles on sexual medicine, health, and research topics that receive little attention in medical schools and healthcare providers' training. For more information about the journal go to http://www.TWSHF.org.

About The Women's Sexual Health Foundation:
TWSHF is an international non-profit organization whose primary mission is to educate the public and healthcare professionals on women's sexual health. The Foundation has numerous resources for the public and healthcare professionals at http://www.TWSHF.org, including educational brochures in English, German and Spanish and The Women's Sexual Health Journal.

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Robyn C. Allgeyer

Lisa Martinez
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