Restoring Intimacy for People with Cancer

As the number of cancer survivors increases, people with cancer are living longer and often feel that intimacy issues may arise due to poor body image, lack of desire or lasting side-effects from surgical procedures. Various cancer treatments can create physiological problems which may lead to sexual dysfunction, which could be in addition to psychological stress and worry that can reduce libido and sexual energy.   There are also other, related health conditions that may hinder restoration of intimacy, including nausea, depression, fatigue, hypertension and diabetes.

Couples who have been surveyed have stated that developing closeness and intimacy has been their focus rather than the act of intercourse itself. It is important for couples to come from a place of mutual respect, realizing that things may have changed since a cancer diagnosis, and that there may be adjustments to the new relationship that they may be able to build together.  All relationships journey through several changes and stages.  Providing appropriate resources of how to journey through the intimacy during this part of their relationship is needed for many patients.

Naturopathic Tips for Intimate Relationships:

  • Make time to talk—open communication is encouraged.  If talking is difficult, letter writing may be another avenue to try.  Avoid texting, emailing or use of social media to communicate intimate concerns.
  • Validate each other’s feelings—you may be anxious about resuming sexual activity after cancer treatment, feeling that sex may hurt or that you may be unable to perform.  Speak openly about your feelings, so that you can understand each other’s needs and preferences.
  • Set the stage—enforce your time of intimacy and privacy. Try dimming the lights, putting on romantic music, and doing something that makes you feel confident and attractive.
  • Get re-acquainted—you and your partner may have disconnected over the course of the cancer journey.  Maybe start with slowly cuddling, kissing and touching.
  • Stay open minded—after cancer treatment, some sexual positions may hurt and certain activities that once gave you pleasure may not anymore.  Explore your expectations together.
  • Experiment with other forms of intimacy—include touching in your daily routine to cultivate physical closeness.  Try dancing, exercising together or doing pottery together. Other ways to incorporate intimacy into ones relationship may be to create a painting or cook together, prayer time, holding hands, etc.
  • Seek professional help—a professional counselor can help to facilitate communication for some couples.  Support groups can give you both a place to voice your fears and concerns. 

When used correctly, there are certain vitamins, minerals and herbs that can help to naturally support a healthy sex drive and function. They may help to address energy levels, hormone balance, circulation, and nervous system function. Naturopathic medicine addresses the root causes of the dysfunction and supports the body’s own healing ability. Other treatments and prevention techniques utilized in sexual wellness include: acupuncture/Asian medicine, physical medicine (such as massage and hydrotherapy), homeopathic medicine, and lifestyle counseling. Contact a naturopathic doctor who focuses on supporting people with cancer at the CCNM Integrative Cancer Centre if you would like more guidance.