Let’s Talk About Sex….(baby)!

Thanks to the efforts of everyday women, I’ve seen incredible shifts in women’s rights and health. Sometimes it feels like we take two leaps forward, and then the patriarchy slaps us back (Roe V Wade anyone?). Despite these tragedies, women are resilient and we will overcome them, because for a millennia that’s exactly what we have done. Women’s rights and health is a broad topic. There is a sheer lack of conversation and ongoing stigma around cancer and sexual health, and this is where I’d like to weigh in. I understand that each person’s cancer journey is very personal, with treatments and outcomes varying significantly. I also appreciate this is a topic many people may not be comfortable discussing.

As a sex positive person, even I feel vulnerable putting my thoughts on paper, and hitting publish for the world to see.

To kick-start the dialogue, I’d like to share that my cancer experience most certainly impacted my sex life. Fear not, I got my groove back and the sex is better than ever! So, how did cancer impact my sex life? Well, first I gained a fair bit of weight due to a combination of the fluid and steroids being pumped into my body. The daily muffin and mocha habit I took up to manage the stress was well deserved but might have contributed slightly 😊. While I believe that weight has nothing to do with how sexy someone is, the significant change made me feel uncomfortable in my own skin and less confident. I know it sounds crass, but in search of a silver lining, I thought, at least if I have cancer, maybe I’ll drop a few kgs? A dark sense of humour was an effective coping mechanism for me, and a consistent trait I found amongst fellow patients. We would share a chuckle and knowing grin as we sipped on our free cup of tea and snacked on the two-pack of Arnotts biscuits.

As it turns out, losing a few kgs was a non-option. In fact, my doctors told me in no uncertain terms, that whatever I do, I needed to ensure I didn’t lose weight. When I asked whether I should make any dietary changes, I assumed I would be told to eat clean and organic. Instead, they advised me to eat whatever I wanted. Ice cream for breakfast, they didn’t care, so long as I didn’t lose weight. Well, I delivered. I don’t know for sure, but I think I gained somewhere in the vicinity of 15 to 20kgs. I’ve lost the weight since then, but I’ve also learnt from the foibles of my younger self. I treated myself with kindness, opting for slow and sustainable change.

It was more important that I treat my mind and body with love and respect, than going for the quick fix

Another factor was the impact of the radiation treatment. Radiotherapy can cause shortening and narrowing of the vagina, as well as a reduction in elasticity. This is due to the scar tissue that can form. How each person is impacted will vary. Vaginal dilators are used post treatment to stretch the vagina and keep the vaginal tissue healthy. If they’re not used, it can be difficult to have sex comfortably and receive a pelvic exam. Dilators are used to treat many conditions, including Menopause, Vaginismus, Dyspareunia, Vaginal Stenosis, Gender Affirmation Therapy and Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome. The dilators you’re provided with are shaped like a cylinder with a rounded end and are plastic or metal. You can imagine how ‘user-friendly’ they were. Using them felt like I was in detention 3-4 nights per week. I knew I had to do it and hated every moment. I would lay there in the dark, trying to relax, crying in pain. Was this mentality useful, definitely not. But it was the best I could manage at the time, and I want to be honest about my experience.

I also felt completely disconnected and betrayed by my body.

I couldn’t even look at or touch my bloated stomach and scars from the surgeries. When I thought about my vagina, all I could imagine was a scarred and barren wasteland, completely damaged from the treatments I had received. My partner at the time was incredibly supportive of the changes in my appearance and struggles. He was kind and patient and we got there in the end. I was surprised and disheartened to learn this is often not the case. If you find yourself in this position, access to a support group or community like Lustre Me is essential. We’ve got you. You deserve to love yourself wholly and enjoy your body whether that’s by yourself or with a partner.

So how did I get my groove back? Here’s a couple of pointers:

  • For the first time in my life, I genuinely gave myself permission to love myself in the skin I was in. Yes, I wanted to lose weight so that I was strong and healthy, but it would happen slowly and sustainably.
  • The dilators I was provided weren’t user-friendly at all. At one point I bought a dildo thinking it would feel more natural. It didn’t. To be honest, after all I had been through, the last thing I wanted, was to jam a phallic-like object inside me. Since then, I’ve discovered better options that are made of soft medical-grade silicone, with a better design to make the process more manageable. A few brands include Intimate Rose, Bien Australia, Soul Source, and Calexotics. To date, I’ve only used Intimate Rose which has been a much better experience. 
  • The price point for these products can be limiting with many complete sets retailing for approximately $250AUD. Most companies allow you to buy individual sizes, but it would be great to see the range become more accessible for all. Using dilators was one of the more challenging parts to my recovery and I can only assume that others feel the same. I will go into more detail about dilator use in a dedicated blog later this season.
  • The right lubricant can make all the difference. I typically purchase vegan water-based lubricants that contain Vitamin E.  The co-ordinator of the Choices support group I attended in Brisbane, recommends Yes, Yes, Yes water-based lubricant. Their products are natural, organic, and cruelty-free.

An experience I found quite transformative was receiving a yoni massage and mapping from a qualified practitioner

  • A good friend made the suggestion, and the practitioner was her midwife. Why not, I thought. At the time, I was looking for any way to reconnect with my body. While the practice has roots in Tantric sexual technique, the main goal of a yoni massage is to reconnect people with their vulvas, awaken pleasure through healing and release trauma. Before you undertake any bodywork, ensure you utilise a qualified practitioner and discuss the needs and boundaries of each party. I only had the one session but found it to be an incredibly healing experience in my journey back to me.
  • I stumbled across a sexual health podcast called How Cum, created by New York stand-up comedian Remy Kassimir. At 27 years of age, Remy hadn’t ever had an orgasm, so naturally she created a podcast to hold herself accountable on her journey to ‘enlightenment’ 😉 With a wide variety of guest speakers discussing a range of sexual health topics, I picked up hints and tips along the way while increasing my broader knowledge in an area that I’m passionate about. The way that Remy and her guests speak with openness, zero judgement and a sense of humour really resonated with me. I loved that as the podcast evolved, and Remy achieved her objective – go Remy! – the episodes continued. Listeners would write into the show about how their lives had changed for the better. Women in their 50’s and 60’s were experiencing their own first orgasm – how fantastic! 

The world would be a better place if people orgasmed more often 😊

I would like to emphasise that I’m not a health professional and am simply sharing my experience. My hope is this blog lets you know there are other people going through a similar struggle, and the information I share benefits you in your own recovery. If you have any questions about the suitability of any treatments and products in this post, ensure you speak with your health care professional.

These are just some of the things I found useful to reconnect with my mind and body in a healthy and compassionate way. I imagine there are thousands of people with amazing insights and advice on what worked and didn’t work for them. I believe that if I only benefit one reader by encouraging the conversation and sharing my experience, then that’s good enough for me.

If you’d like to share what you’ve learnt whether that’s anonymously or otherwise, reach out via Instagram or Messenger

Did you find this information useful? Get in touch to let me know.

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